Bell: New NDP leader Nenshi was scared but he sure isn't scared now

Nenshi is convinced people are tired of a ‘kind of populism that inspires them to think small’

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Naheed Nenshi, the newly-minted NDP leader, gives us an idea of what road he’s taking.

It sounds like the same piece of political pavement he travelled on these many years ago when he was the underdog candidate who won the mayor’s race in Calgary.

His words come near the end of his pitch-and-catch with the press after crushing his opponents in the Alberta NDP leadership race.

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Nenshi tells us about his past fear.

“When I first jumped into this race I was scared,” says the NDP leader, eager to go toe-to-toe with Premier Danielle Smith and the UCP.

Nenshi scared? What is all that about?

“I was scared my kind of politics of talking to people, of inspiring people to be bigger than themselves, was completely out of style,” said Nenshi.

“I thought that’s just not going to work anymore.”

But …

“We learned very quickly, we learned in the first week in a standing-room-only room in Red Deer, people are aching for a bigger politics.”

At this point, many supporters of the UCP and Smith are no doubt gagging over Nenshi’s comments.

Nice feel-good words. No specifics. What does it all mean? People will see through him.

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Fact is these UCP supporters really don’t like Nenshi and have a laundry list of reasons why.

They are also convinced the NDP led by Nenshi doesn’t have much of a chance.

The UCP are no doubt readying an attack on Nenshi sooner rather than later. Other conservatives are already going after him.

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After all, they were said to be salivating over the thought of fighting the new NDP leader.

After winning the NDP leadership by running right over his opponents, Nenshi laughed off that comment.

The election isn’t until 2027.

Nenshi has time to talk up the generalities, the lofty tone, the warm and fuzzy feelings.

He can talk up what he sees as hope and optimism, setting the stage for what is to follow.

After all, Nenshi is convinced people are tired of a “kind of populism that inspires them to think small.”

“I believe we can tap into that vein. I believe we’re at the beginning of a movement.”

The man said so in his speech pointing to Smith’s UCP as just “a version of the conservative movement” and one he believes does not represent today’s Alberta.

Naheed Nenshi
Naheed Nenshi takes a selfie with a supporter after he was introduced as the new leader of the Alberta NDP at the Hyatt Regency in Calgary on Saturday, June 22, 2024. Jim Wells/Postmedia

He reached out to Progressive Conservatives in his address on Saturday as he reached out to them in the last provincial election when he lent the NDP his vote and asked others to do the same.

There were former Progressive Conservatives in the room when Nenshi spoke, some who fled the UCP under former premier Jason Kenney and sure as heck aren’t going to come back under Smith.

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Nenshi is not a fool.

He does not possess the old-school NDP soul and knows it and admits it and the old-school NDPers know it and admit it and they clearly don’t care.

He is not running to give Smith the heave-ho by casting himself as a socialist or a social democrat. You will never hear those words from Nenshi.

Hell, he doesn’t want ties with the federal NDP. The Alberta NDP members will decide but if they accept Nenshi as leader they can accept cutting strings to the likes of federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh.

They want to win in Alberta.

I think Nenshi would not mind if the next election were like the 2012 ballot battle, the so-called lake of fire election.

I can easily see the Nenshi NDP paint the UCP under Smith into being some sort of successor to Wildrose.

Smith led the Wildrose in that election.

In other words, the Nenshi NDP will try to paint itself as the political home for anybody to the left of how they will portray the UCP.

Danielle Smith at the Chamber of Commerce
The Chamber of Commerce hosted Premier Danielle Smith for a keynote address and fireside chat at the Hyatt Regency in Calgary on Thursday, June 13, 2024. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

Nenshi has already said he feels the Smith UCP are very, very small, considering Alberta as a place under attack and needing to be defended against outsiders.

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In three years, as some Nenshi NDP supporters have suggested, how much will Alberta be fighting with Ottawa if Pierre Poilievre is prime minister?

That card, the Ace of Outrage, will likely not be in the deck.

Who knows what will happen? How much will Nenshi’s record as mayor hurt him or even matter in 2027?


What will the economy look like, the health-care system, the quality of life for most Albertans?


Nenshi is inspired by the recent victory of Manitoba NDP premier Wab Kinew and, in the new NDP leader’s words, Kinew’s “campaign of hope and optimism.”

He claims the losing PCs in Manitoba ran on “a kind of distillation of the UCP philosophy in a very divisive, some would say hateful and racist campaign.”

Wow, that’s a mouthful.

He adds, since Kinew’s win, Manitobans have shown they are hungry for a “politics that inspires.”

But in three years will Albertans will be hungry for what’s on Nenshi’s menu?

That is the question.

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