The race to replace Rachel Notley as leader of the Alberta NDP
Choose wisely. Notley's successor could be the next Premier of Alberta
Rachel Notley has been one of the Alberta NDP’s greatest assets since she took up the reins of the party in 2014. Under Notley’s leadership, the NDP went from a small and scrappy opposition party to form government in 2015 and then solidify itself as a viable political force and the singular opposition to the United Conservative Party after 2019.
And after 9 years as the helm of the Alberta NDP she helped transform, it’s likely she will not lead them into the 2027 election.
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Unlike most other political parties, who eagerly toss their leaders after one kick at the electoral can, Notley has earned a deep respect from NDP supporters and has been able to maintain an unheard of level of discipline over the party for the past nine years. Despite losing government in 2019 and coming painfully short of winning in May 2023, there have been almost no calls for Notley to resign (at least not from anyone in a position to do something about it).
Notley has not definitively said whether or not she will remain leader of the NDP, but back in June, she told reporters that "I don't have a clear timeline. But what I can promise you is that when I've engaged in what I think is a responsible level of consideration, I'll be sure to let you know.”
The leadership question is mostly talked about quietly in whispers, but it is on the minds of many political watchers and NDP supporters who have noticed how distracted and unfocused the messaging has been coming out of the NDP Caucus. Within the caucus, gentle and awkward jostling has already begun.
The recent appointment of former British Columbia NDP Premier John Horgan as Canada’s Ambassador to Germany made me think of what the future could hold for Notley. An ambassadorship following in the steps of Horgan and former Manitoba premier Gary Doer might not be out of the question. An appointment to fill one of Alberta’s two currently vacant seats in the Senate might also be an appealing offer.
One thing is for certain, when Notley chooses to step aside, whether it be sooner or later, it will be at a time of her choosing.
What does the next Alberta NDP leadership race look like?
The Alberta NDP constitution outlines how the party chooses its leaders.
Article 6.01(a)(i) of the constitution says that “the ballots cast by Party members shall be weighted to a total of at least 75% of the votes counted in a leadership election, with the balance of up to 25% of the votes being allocated among the affiliated members.The Provincial Council shall determine the exact percentage to be allocated to affiliates, based on the number of affiliated organizations at the time that the Leadership election is called.”
Article 6.01(a)(ii) explains that “…candidates for the leadership with the fewest number of weighted votes will drop off the ballot in subsequent rounds until one candidate receives 50% plus one or more of the total weighted votes cast in that round.”
The last time time NDP held a leadership race was in 2014. In that race, 75 percent of the votes were one-member one-vote and 25 percent were reserved for affiliated organizations (mostly labour unions). With election finance reforms made by the NDP in 2015 banning union donations to political parties it is unclear how big of a role any remaining affiliate unions will play in the next leadership race.
The 2014 leadership race saw Notley win with 70 percent on the first ballot. Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen finished second with 28 percent and now-Edmonton-Ellerslie MLA Rod Loyola finished third with 2 percent of the vote. There were 3,589 votes cast in that leadership race.
With Notley’s predecessors Raj Pannu and Brian Mason having been acclaimed, the 2014 vote marked the party’s first contested leadership race since 1996 when Pam Barrett won a delegated convention vote. Barrett’s win marked the third time in three years that delegates to the NDP’s annual convention had voted in a leadership race (read more about that below).
Membership sales in the next NDP leadership race will undoubtably be compared to recent UCP leadership races. The 2022 UCP leadership race saw 84,593 votes cast in the first ballot and the 2017 race saw 58,232 votes cast.