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Pancholi announces bid for Alberta NDP leadership

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Edmonton NDP MLA Rakhi Pancholi has joined the race to be the Alberta NDP's next leader.

Pancholi, who has represented the Edmonton-Whitemud constituency since 2019, announced her campaign and launched her website Thursday morning.

"I'm feeling great today. The energy and excitement is exactly the reason why I wanted to do this," she told CTV News Edmonton later that day.

"People were really looking for something to vote for and to look for that kind of different story of Alberta that's not so small and negative, as we hear it from the current provincial government."

The Edmonton-raised lawyer has served as the Official Opposition's education critic since 2021 and as the children's services critic before that.

She says it's enough experience that she's no longer a "newbie" in the legislature, but not so much that she's "tied to a lot of the old solutions."

"When we're talking about, for example, addressing climate change and energy policy, we're stuck in some narratives and some polarizing conversations in this country and in this province right now that are preventing us from doing the very important work of developing strategies to mitigate climate change," Pancholi said.

If chosen as leader, she said some of her priorities would be affordability, housing, and the quality of Alberta's health and education systems.

"The fundamental things about our quality of life are being eroded right before our eyes and we're seeing no action because we're seeing games instead. We're seeing politics being played with young people's lives, we're seeing big campaigns in the U.S. and Ottawa when there are very real issues facing this province right now."

Pancholi is the second to launch a campaign to replace Rachel Notley after Calgary's Kathleen Ganley, Notley's former justice minister who made her announcement on the first day of the NDP leadership race. Sarah HoffmanMLA for Edmonton-Glenora, is registered to run and expected to launch her campaign soon.

While Pancholi didn't "get the privilege" of serving in Notley's government, she says it was the outgoing leader who inspired her to enter politics -- even if she didn't agree with Notley's every move as premier.

"I think we have to be honest with ourselves that there has not been strong public support for a consumer carbon price in this province, really since the inception of the climate leadership plan in 2016," Pancholi offered as an example of how her leadership could differ from the party's historic stance. "As much as that might have been an effective tool to address climate change, and still could be, but we know now that the federal government has really undercut the logic behind that and consumer carbon tax."

These comments, as well as a well-prepared and professional campaign launch, were among the things that political analyst John Brennan found most impressive on Thursday.

Any candidate who served in Notley's cabinet between 2015 and 2019 -- like Ganley or Hoffman -- will have to answer for the party's unpopular decisions from that time, he speculated.

"They're going to have to come up with answers like, why did you bring in a provincial carbon tax, even though you didn't run on it in 2015? Why did you bring in that farm labour Bill 6 that was so resented in rural Alberta and farmers?" Brennan said.

However, he also called Ganley's campaign launch very impressive, particularly the immediate endorsement by seven MLAs, including the experienced and well-connected Shannon Phillips.

She's also being endorsed by the 2004-2014 Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason. He believes the party needs to be lead by someone with government experience and roots in the party.

"If the party just becomes something that's trying to read the polls to try to decide where to go next, we lose our soul. We go off into the wilderness," he told CTV News Edmonton on Thursday.

"I think it's the principle that the NDP follows -- it's the principles, I should say -- that we have standing up for regular people in our society that has brought us success and will bring us success in the future."

According to Brennan, Ganley's other advantages are that she's from Calgary, where the party needs to keep or grow its base, her experience as justice minister and attorney general, and her apparent "moderate, centre-left" position similar to Notley.

As for Pancholi, Brennan said, "The biggest thing she's got going for her is she's young, enthusiastic, extremely well spoken and a great communicator, and very telegenic."

Altogether, he added, "I think what we've seen is the two front-running candidates, I would call them ... are the two that were the most prepared and ready to go."

Health critic David Shepherd and former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi are rumoured will enter the race.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson 

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