On June 22, Naheed Nenshi was elected as the new leader of the Alberta New Democratic Party.

The preceding leadership election saw the party’s membership increase fivefold since the end of 2023.

Highwood was among the ridings to see a boost in NDP memberships, having jumped from 132 registered members to 936.

Dana Pugh, communications coordinator for the Highwood NDP Constituency Association, says 

“Obviously our membership grew by about 60 per cent, and we had events throughout the leadership race, but our event for Naheed really showed the huge numbers that he was drawing to the party, because we had maybe 60 or 70 for the other candidates, and for him we had over 200 people RSVP, which was more than our membership at that time."

Just over 85,000 NDP members were eligible to vote in the leadership election, and of the 72,930 that did, nearly 87 per cent voted for Nenshi.

The election saw a voter turnout of nearly 86 per cent.

Pugh says it shows that Nenshi can inspire people toward political engagement, having motivated thousands not only to sign up to become members, but to cast their ballots too.

“I was excited to see how many people actually filled out their ballots. That shows that there’s an appetite for him as leader not only of the party but hopefully of the province.”

Within the Highwood riding, she was excited to see what seems to be continued momentum from the previous provincial election, which saw NDP candidate Jessica Hallam garner close to 30 per cent of the vote before the notion of a new party leader had even been raised.

Aside from the enthusiastic response to Nenshi’s re-entry into politics, Pugh feels the leadership election was a good showcase of the NDP as a whole, with four of the five other leadership candidates being sitting MLAs.

“Part of that showcase was the incredible women that were running against Naheed. There wasn’t just one great candidate, there were six. There was Rakhi (Pancholi), Jodi (Calahoo Stonehouse), Gil (McGowan), Kathleen (Ganley), and Sarah (Hoffman). We saw that there’s such strength in the party now, and I think that has probably changed a lot of people’s perception around what the NDP is, especially in the areas where the NDP hasn’t always been so popular. It’s nice to see the growth in more rural areas.”