Alberta NDP leader Naheed Nenshi draws large crowd at Calgary Stampede breakfast

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Newly-crowned leader of Alberta’s New Democrats Naheed Nenshi drew a turnout at his first official Calgary Stampede breakfast that eclipsed last year’s party pancake event, and veteran members say it demonstrates momentum.

Speaking in a riding that flipped the NDP’s way in the last election, Nenshi said he’s hearing at community events that people bought their first party membership for him.

“There is a real, real sense that the tide is turning, and people are just looking for something to believe in again,” he told reporters.

NDP caucus officials said 4,000 people attended the Sunday morning breakfast hosted by Alberta’s Opposition.

Calgary MLA Kathleen Ganley said the turnout was about two-to-three times as many who came to the party’s Stampede event last year.

“This turnout blows my mind, and I think it signals really good things,” said Ganley, who ran against Nenshi in the leadership race.

Nenshi does not have a seat in the legislature, so he didn’t get a spot in the Stampede Parade lineup Friday along with sitting members. But the 52-year-old estimates he’s been to all but a few Stampedes in his lifetime.

The former Calgary mayor took over from departing NDP leader Rachel Notley in a landslide June vote, capturing 86 per cent of members’ support.

With more than 85,000 signed up following the leadership campaign, the party now boasts the largest provincial wing of New Democrats in the country.

Attack ads hit the airwaves days after his leadership win, painting him as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s choice for Alberta, but Nenshi said the governing United Conservative Party is grasping at straws.

“Let them waste their money,” he said.

Following last year’s election, the UCP has money to spend. In 2023, and the first quarter of this year, it has millions of dollars more in its war chest.

“We have this enormous movement of people, every one of whom is super committed to talking to their neighbours, to talking to their friends, to being involved now and straight through to the next election. The UCP’s got nothing like it,” Nenshi said.

Edmonton MLA Rakhi Pancholi, who dropped her own leadership bid to support Nenshi and was appointed deputy leader last month, said the party’s Stampede event last year had “a great energy” but “was nothing like it is this year.”

“I always think it’s a good sign when we pull up to one of our NDP breakfasts at the Stampede and you can’t find parking,” Pancholi said.

“I’m hearing people excited to be here, they’re excited about us, they’re excited about our team, and the energy is really palpable,” she said, noting the party is making a concerted effort to meet potential voters in every corner of the city.

Sunday was the first of three NDP caucus pancake breakfasts planned, but Nenshi isn’t the only politician running the marathon of community events since Stampede began last week.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has had a full itinerary, and is set to host the premier’s annual Stampede breakfast Monday morning.