Braid: Poll shows Nenshi's high recognition would upend NDP leadership race

Nenshi’s presence would certainly bring more interest to a race that so far lacks Rachel Notley’s star power

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A new poll shows that Naheed Nenshi would create far more interest and recognition than any of the party insiders in the NDP race.

If he runs, that is.

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The ex-Calgary mayor isn’t likely to announce anything for some days yet. But he’s checking for support and calculating how he could sell enough memberships to win as a party outsider.

His friends and relatives quickly started pushing the poll around on social media. Done by Pollara Strategic Insights, some of the questions were developed by Stephen Carter and Corey Hogan of the Strategists podcast.

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Carter’s presence in the neighbourhood of any campaign always raises interest. He helped Nenshi win the mayor’s office in 2010, went on to run PC Premier Alison Redford’s leadership campaign, and then helped Mayor Jyoti Gondek in 2021.

But Carter isn’t boosting Nenshi or working with him. He says their egos are too big to fit in the same room.

Asked if Nenshi can win, Carter says, “I would not argue that at all. Think of the front-runner syndrome. Even Danielle Smith, who had run an excellent campaign as the front-runner who took all the oxygen in the UCP leadership, it still took her multiple ballots to actually win.”

Carter says Nenshi would start late in selling memberships. The other candidates — MLAs Sarah Hoffman, Rakhi Pancholi and Kathleen Ganley — have been campaigning flat-out for more than two weeks.

In the preferential ballot, Carter says, Nenshi would have trouble getting to a majority against three candidates — all with considerable support.

Still, the poll by Pollara gives Nenshi plenty of encouragement. In name recognition, he’s well ahead of the three declared candidates in Calgary, Edmonton and the rest of the province. He scores much higher on the “excitement” index.

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Naheed Nenshi
Former Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi greeted Sunnyside residents as they celebrated Neighbour Day with a parade and afternoon gathering in the community on Saturday, June 17, 2023. Gavin Young/Postmedia

Pollster Dan Arnold wrote: “Albertans feel the best about a possible Nenshi victory, with 41 per cent feeling positive emotions.”

Ganley gets 23 per cent positive, Hoffman 22 per cent and Pancholi 21 per cent.

“Nenshi also generates the most excitement, giving him the largest voter field to harvest votes from,” Arnold adds.

Pollara says that 13 per cent of Albertans say they have or will buy an NDP membership.

“The figure is certainly overestimated, but this question shows there is more interest in the race in Edmonton (17 per cent) and Calgary (13 per cent) than the rest of Alberta (eight per cent.) Young and racialized people are the most interested in buying memberships.”

Nenshi has appeared to be campaigning only once, when he spoke at a rally at Calgary City Hall in favour of trans and LGBTQ rights. It was held Feb. 4, after the UCP’s new policies were announced.

Nenshi’s fierce opposition to the measures — he says they weren’t worth “a few dead kids” — won him applause at the rally and surely approval among many NDP members.

Nenshi also talked about how he’s known Smith for 30 years and always felt she was in favour of protections for gay and trans children and adults.

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But now, he alleges, she has shown that’s not true.

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The brief appearance gave a taste of what to expect in the legislature if he won and went up against the premier. “It would be electric,” says one Nenshi fan.

The three candidates already in the race are far ahead with policies. They’ve all voiced skepticism about the federal carbon tax, declaring it to be doomed. Ganley has presented an income tax scheme that would provide more exemption for low-income earners.

Pancholi has even called for divorcing the Alberta NDP from the federal party, a very controversial subject among provincial members.

Nenshi’s presence would certainly bring more interest to a race that so far lacks Rachel Notley’s star power.

But there are doubts about Nenshi. One longtime activist voiced a common view: “I think he’d be a great candidate — we’d get plenty of attention — but I’m not at all sure what kind of leader he’d be.”

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.

X: @DonBraid

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