Braid: Shannon Phillips quits, throwing a crucial choice to Nenshi if he wins NDP leadership

Lethbridge-West would be tempting for Nenshi. It’s solidly New Democrat, although not entirely safe

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The NDP leadership result comes up quickly, on June 22. Former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi already faces a big choice if he wins.

Will he run in a Lethbridge-West byelection after MLA Shannon Phillips resigns on July 1?

The question is irrelevant to the other candidates. Kathleen Ganley, Sarah Hoffman and Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse are already elected.

Lethbridge-West would be tempting for Nenshi. It’s solidly New Democrat, although not entirely safe. In 2023, Phillips captured 53.9 per cent of the vote, winning by nearly 3,000 ballots cast.

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A victory there would show some serious NDP strength outside the big cities and distance the ex-mayor from his Calgary image.

But losing — a real possibility — would be disastrous for both Nenshi and the NDP. The UCP will fight hard for this turf. Nenshi would face every pressure and promise the UCP could pour into Lethbridge.

I’ll place two bets here (wishing amnesia upon you if I’m wrong).

First, Nenshi will win the leadership to replace Rachel Notley.

As of Tuesday morning, 48,394 of 85,144 NDP members had voted. The giant surge in membership, and the high level of early voting, tend to favour Nenshi. The membership bonanza happened largely after he announced.

Second, Nenshi won’t run in Lethbridge-West. He will wait and lead the party from outside the legislature for a time.

Getting stuck in a riding campaign, with no certainty about when Premier Danielle Smith would set the voting date, would hamper plans to stump the province during the summer.

The legislature doesn’t sit again until Oct. 28 anyway, so there’s no rush. At some point, another New Democrat MLA — from Calgary or even Edmonton — would resign to make room for Nenshi.

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The UCP wouldn’t dare needle him for passing on Lethbridge-West.

Smith herself resisted running in vacant Calgary-Elbow because she would have lost.

She finally picked Brooks-Medicine Hat, but didn’t win there until Nov. 8, 2022, a month after she was sworn in as premier.

In 2014, PC leader Jim Prentice became premier on Sept. 15. He wasn’t elected to his Calgary-Foothills seat until Oct. 27.

It’s strange, but true, that a politician can lead a Canadian government without being elected to anything except a party leadership.

In 1989, Don Getty was already the PC premier when he called an election and won a handy majority, but lost his own seat in Edmonton-Whitemud to a Liberal.

Embarrassing. Getty remained premier, but not a legislature member, until the PCs cooked up a safe byelection for him two months later in Stettler, nearly 200 kilometres from the ungrateful capital.

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With this history among conservative premiers, including Smith herself, the UCP will keep their mouths shut about a new NDP leader’s byelection choices.

Smith does face a crucial choice of her own. She decides when the byelection will be held.

She can delay for six months after the vacancy arises. It’s doubtful that Smith will choose a date before mid-November, because her party will vote on her leadership approval Nov. 3.

Would the premier want to hand the NDP a riding victory before that? Not likely, especially with UCP drums of discontent sounding again in the countryside.

Danielle Smith
Premier Danielle Smith enters a press conference in Edmonton on May 15, 2024. Shaughn Butts/Postmedia

With that in mind, there would be no reason at all for Nenshi to offer himself for Lethbridge-West. He can politely defer to loyal local New Democrats who might have worked toward a nomination for years (as Shannon Phillips herself once did).

Her resignation was deeply personal, propelled in part by years of fighting Lethbridge police for their egregious violation of her privacy and safety.

Surveillance and data breaches by two officers hostile to her politics is one of most unsettling things to happen in Alberta in many years.

Equally appalling is the refusal of the Crown prosecution service to test this behaviour in criminal court, despite a recommendation from the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT).

Makes you wonder how those cops would feel about a new Lethbridge-West MLA named Naheed Nenshi.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

X: @DonBraid

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