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Nenshi talks making inroads outside of Calgary at campaign stop north of the city

Naheed Nenshi made a campaign stop in Airdrie, a city only a few kilometres north of Calgary where he was previously mayor.

Naheed Nenshi has until June 22 to convince Alberta’s NDP voters to elect him leader of their party. Then comes the hard part. 

Nenshi is vying for the top job of a party that he did not belong to before this year. The provincial election last May was the first time that the former three-term mayor of Calgary had publicly endorsed a party, and this will be the first time Nenshi has sought votes outside of the city of Calgary. 

For Nenshi, a big part of his leadership campaign has been trying to meet voters outside of the traditionally classified "urban centres." He has campaigned in Okotoks, Red Deer, Claresholm, and now Airdrie. 

At Atlas Brewing in Airdrie Tuesday night, Nenshi spoke to a crowd of about 50 people, some of them teachers, healthcare workers, and parents of vulnerable children. A big question than any of the prospective NDP leaders will have to face is how the party can bridge the urban-rural divide that has hampered it from forming government the last two elections. 

“We have to think of places where people are living on farms and ranches differently than a place like Airdrie,” said Nenshi. “[Airdrie’s] not all rural Alberta. I think that is sort of the mistake the NDP has made in the past, lumping together everything outside Calgary and Edmonton as the same.”

While Nenshi hasn’t campaigned across the province before, he believes that his past successful campaigns for mayor have prepared him for reaching across the political divide. 

“If you were to take a map of where I won in Calgary three times and overlay it where the NDP didn't win, you'd have an NDP majority government,” he said. “But it's not that simple. Number one,  you have to re-win that vote and number two, the party needs to be legitimate by having seats outside the two major centres.”

Of the candidates currently running for leadership, Nenshi is the only one who has a pre-established political brand wholly separate from the NDP. His decade plus as mayor thrust him under the microscope. Plainly stated–Nenshi has baggage, and he knows it. 

“I think I left office after 11 years with a higher approval rating than Danielle Smith ever has had,” Nenshi said. “But, at the same time…I will happily put my (small) rolling bag up against her giant steamer trunk of baggage any day because people know who I am and what I stand for. Ultimately I think that's a good thing.” 

Ultimately, Nenshi believes that his profile, which has been a boon for membership sales, will benefit the party overall. 

“It invites people to take another look, but I want to be clear, the N in NDP doesn't stand for Naheed, it stands for New,” he said. “The party doesn't need a saviour, it got three quarters of a million votes in the last election. It's just a matter of inviting more people into the conversation, so with me you take the good and the bad.”



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