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Find your buddy: NDP pairs veteran and rookie MLAs in energy, finance, health and municipal affairs critic roles
A glimpse into how the NDP will frame its opposition to Danielle Smith's UCP
The Alberta NDP Caucus released the list of critic roles that its roster of 38 Official Opposition MLAs have been tasked to fill.
Every NDP MLA has been assigned a role as a critic or in the caucus leadership, which is not unusual for provincial oppositions in Alberta. But, because of the unusually large size of the opposition caucus, there are more critics than cabinet ministers to shadow.
This is only the second time in Alberta’s history that the opposition has had more than 30 MLAs, and with almost 40 MLAs, Rachel Notley’s NDP have been a little creative in how they have distributed critic responsibilities. Opposition critic roles generally line up with the government ministers, but not always, nor is there any rule that they have to.
The critic line up the NDP has released gives us a glimpse into what issues the opposition is hoping to focus on and how they plan to frame their responses to Premier Danielle Smith’s United Conservative Party government.
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Interestingly, the NDP has split critic roles in four areas - energy, finance, health, and municipal affairs - buddying a veteran MLA with a newly elected MLA.
Energy: Calgary-Mountain View MLA Kathleen Ganley, re-elected to her third-term, is the critic for energy and climate focusing on oil & gas, natural gas, minerals & hydrogen, and she is paired with new Calgary-Glenmore MLA Nagwan Al-Guneid, who takes on the role of energy & climate for electricity, utilities & renewables. Al-Guneid is well-known in Calgary energy circles for her role before the election as Director of Business Renewables Centre Canada.
Finance: Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips, who has been finance critic for the past four years, returns to the role with specific responsibility for insurance and pensions. New Calgary-Elbow MLA Samir Kayande will split the finance role by taking the lead on fiscal responsibility. I expect the experienced Phillips will return in her role as chair of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
Health: Edmonton-City Centre MLA David Shepherd returns as health critic, but will focus on primary and rural health care. Shepherd splits the health critic role with newly elected Calgary-Varsity MLA Dr. Luanne Metz, who will focus on emergency and surgical care. Before her election to the legislature, Dr. Metz was a Professor and the Head of the Division of Neurology at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary. She unseated former UCP health minister Jason Copping in the election.
Municipal Affairs: Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman is municipal affairs critic responsible for Calgary and Edmonton, and new Sherwood Park MLA Kyle Kasawski is municipal affairs critic for mid-sized cities and rural areas.
This new NDP opposition has quite a bit of talent in it, and Al-Guneid, Kayande, Metz and Kasawski are among the group of new MLAs that a lot of political watchers are keeping their eyes on. These four are well-respected voices in their professional fields and, politically important, they represent ridings outside Edmonton city limits. Al-Guneid and Kayande, in particular, could boost the NDP’s credibility in the energy sector.
Veteran MLAs will fill important leadership roles in the caucus. Hoffman is Deputy Leader, Calgary-Buffalo MLA Joe Ceci is Caucus Chair, Edmonton-North West MLA David Eggen is Caucus Whip, Edmonton-Mill Woods MLA Christina Gray is Opposition House Leader, and Calgary-Bhullar-McCall MLA Irfan Sabir and Edmonton-Manning MLA Heather Sweet are Deputy House Leaders.
While some critic roles, including the ones I just listed, will inevitably be more high profile than others, making sure MLAs have a role to play will be important in this caucus. There are likely more than a few new NDP MLAs who believed when they were nominated to run that they would be cabinet ministers in an NDP government right now. Easing any hard feelings of disappointment or regret in her caucus is going to be one of Notley’s big challenges.
We recently passed the 30th anniversary of the June 15, 1993 election, which saw the election of 32 Liberal MLAs, which was at that point the largest opposition in Alberta history. That caucus was full of MLAs who had expected to be cabinet ministers.
Despite the huge gains the Liberals made in that election, their caucus fell into disunity pretty quickly with a leadership change, a painfully divisive race to replace Laurence Decore, and ideological conflicts between moderate Liberals and right-wingers more closely aligned with the federal Reform Party.
But unlike 1993, when Ralph Klein’s Progressive Conservatives offered a welcome home for disaffected right-wing Liberals, I don’t get the sense that the politics of the UCP (and the impending civil war triggered by the Take Back Alberta group’s takeover) would be a very appealing relocation for most NDP MLAs.
I also don’t sense that the same level of division exists in the NDP Caucus in 2023, but Notley (or whoever succeeds her if she decides to step down) will need to manage the politics of the party’s traditional labour and environmental wings and its increasingly important base of political moderates and the new group of MLAs that constituency just helped get elected.
The party’s critics on the political left loudly claimed that the NDP fell short of forming government in the May election because it shifted to the political centre, but it is difficult to believe it would have had much electoral success if it had shifted to the left (I do believe there should be a party of the left, but it’s not the Alberta NDP).
With no other opposition party earning more than one-percent of the vote in the election, the NDP don’t have to immediately worry about any other opposition parties snipping at their heels. The Alberta Party, which earned 9% of the vote in 2019 fell to 0.71% in 2023. But four years is a long-time in politics.
A big difference between the NDP in 2023 and most opposition caucuses that preceded it is that this opposition includes MLAs with experience as cabinet ministers. But the NDP can’t count on those experienced MLAs staying around forever.
With the exception of Notley and Eggen, who are serving their fifth terms as MLAs, all of the other former NDP cabinet ministers still in the Legislature are now serving their third terms. We can expect that not all of those veteran MLAs will decide to continue in politics when the next election is called.
While you don’t actually get the experience of being a cabinet minister without actually being a cabinet minister, buddying new MLAs with those veterans makes a lot of sense.
The NDP have four years to build on the substantial gains it made in the May 2023 election. Highlighting their team of experienced veterans and promising rookie MLAs will be key to convincing voters that they are the change that will work for Albertans in 2027.
(Scroll to the bottom of this newsletter to see the full list of NDP critic roles)
A few more things…
Gurmit Bhachu has been nominated as the NDP candidate in the July 24 federal by-election in Calgary Heritage. Bhachu was the NDP candidate in Calgary-Midnapore in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections. He was joined at his nomination meeting by Calgary-Buffalo NDP MLA Joe Ceci and former Calgary-Shaw MLA Graham Sucha.
Voters in the Village of Ryley were the first to use Alberta’s recall law.
Public Interest Alberta is organizing a post-election community summit on July 8.
Thank you to everyone who has read and subscribed to the Daveberta Substack.
I am looking forward to sharing some fun Alberta politics and history columns over the summer that I think many of you will enjoy.
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Full list of NDP Official Opposition critics:
Nagwan Al-Guneid - Energy & Climate (Electricity, Utilities & Renewables)
Brooks Arcand-Paul - Indigenous Relations & Reconciliation
Diana Batten - Childcare, Child & Family Services
Gurinder Brar - Small Business
Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse - Environment, Parks & Climate Resilience
Joe Ceci - Caucus Chair, Arts & Culture
Amanda Chapman - Services To Children With Disabilities, Families and Communities Committee Deputy Chair
Lorne Dach - Transportation & Economic Corridors
Jasvir Deol - Infrastructure
David Eggen - Caucus Whip
Court Ellingson - Technology & Innovation
Sarah Elmeligi - Tourism, Sports & Recreation
Janet Eremenko - Mental Health & Addictions
Kathleen Ganley - Energy & Climate (Oil & Gas, Natural Gas, Minerals & Hydrogen)
Nicole Goehring - Veterans Affairs & Military Liaison
Christina Gray - House Leader
Sharif Haji - Immigration & Accreditation
Julia Hayter - Status of Women
Sarah Hoffman - Deputy Leader, Assistant Whip, Municipal Affairs (Edmonton & Calgary)
Rhiannon Hoyle - Advanced Education
Nathan Ip - Jobs, Economy, Trade
Janis Irwin - Housing
Kyle Kasawski - Municipal Affairs (Mid-Sized Cities & Rural Alberta)
Samir Kayande - Deputy Assistant Whip, Finance (Fiscal Responsibility)
Rod Loyola - Alberta’s Economic Future Committee Deputy Chair
Luanne Metz - Health (Emergency & Surgical Care)
Rakhi Pancholi - Education, Public Accounts Chair
Shannon Phillips - Finance (Insurance & Pensions)
Marie Renaud - Community Social Services, Francophone Issues
Irfan Sabir - Deputy House Leader, Justice, Public Safety & Emergency Services
Marlin Schmidt - Resource Stewardship Committee Deputy Chair
David Shepherd - Health (Primary & Rural Care)
Lori Sigurdson - Seniors Issues, Continuing Care & Homecare
Parmeet Singh - Service Alberta & Consumer Protection
Heather Sweet - Deputy House Leader, Agriculture, Forestry & Rural Economic Development
Lizette Tejada - Anti-Racism, Diversity & 2SLGBTQ+ Issues
Peggy Wright - Deputy Caucus Chair, Labour