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The NDP’s membership growth is also spilling over into rural areas of Alberta

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The Alberta NDP launched in 2024 with around 16,000 party members. Since Rachel Notley's resignation in the spring triggered a leadership contest, the number of registered NDP members has increased fivefold.

When the party elects its new leader on June 22, over 85,000 Albertans could cast their vote. But what does this membership boom look like in rural Alberta? And what does it mean for the NDP's electoral chances outside of the big cities?

The NDP's biggest success story has been in Calgary. In 2019, the NDP won just three seats in the city. Thanks to the momentum of last year's provincial election and the excitement surrounding party leadership candidates, former mayor Naheed Nenshi and Calgary-Mountain View MP Kathleen Ganley, Calgary now accounts for just under half of all NDP members in Alberta.

Twenty-nine per cent of party members come from districts outside Edmonton and Calgary. Excluding the seven largest cities – Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, Grande Prairie, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Fort McMurray – the NDP in Alberta currently has 18,291 party members, more than the total number of provincial members just five months ago, according to data from Kathleen Ganley's party leadership campaign team.

“We've seen membership growth, which I think is a really good indicator. Although obviously there's not a direct correlation between membership growth and vote growth,” Ganley said, adding that the party saw a vote increase in rural Alberta in the last election, but only in Banff-Kananaskis was it enough to win a rural constituency.

While membership is not a reliable indicator of future political engagement – ​​only 69 per cent of eligible UCP members voted in the last leadership race – Ganley said there are other signs that point to changing attitudes toward the NDP.

“I was in Airdrie last summer and the reception was very warm. Much warmer for an NDP table than you would expect,” she said. “That definitely says something. That people are more open and curious than before.”

“I think for progressives, in smaller cities to some extent and especially in rural areas, the challenge is to get someone to think about the values ​​of a policy. It's not just some kind of knee-jerk reaction to party names. And I think we're seeing that openness increase a lot.”

Ganley, who grew up in Calgary, said the same narrative that Albertans are reflexively conservative applied to people in her city as it does to people outside it today. When Ganley first ran in 2015, the NDP had historically received between four and six per cent of the vote.

Part of the Conservatives' failure to win votes in the past is because progressive candidates have failed to enter these spaces and talk about the economy in a way that links people's values ​​to the NDP's programs, Ganley says.

“There's a left-wing view of the economy,” she said. “And I think the old conservative story that if you give more to your boss, it's good for the economy and it's better for everyone, that's not true. There's a lot of evidence that that's not true. But we need to talk about it in terms of ourselves and in terms of positivity.”

Four candidates remain in the race for NDP leadership: Nenshi, Ganley, Edmonton-Rutherford MP Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse, and Edmonton-Glenora MP Sarah Hoffman.

Brett McKay, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, St. Albert Gazette