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Pancholi backs out of NDP leadership race to throw support behind Nenshi

Former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, left, is introduced by Edmonton MLA Rakhi Pancholi on March 26, 2024, at a support rally for Nenshi as Alberta NDP's next leader. Earlier that day, Pancholi announced she was leaving the party's leadership race to endorse Nenshi. (Sean Amato / CTV News Edmonton) Former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, left, is introduced by Edmonton MLA Rakhi Pancholi on March 26, 2024, at a support rally for Nenshi as Alberta NDP's next leader. Earlier that day, Pancholi announced she was leaving the party's leadership race to endorse Nenshi. (Sean Amato / CTV News Edmonton)
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Edmonton MLA Rakhi Pancholi no longer believes it's she who should be the Alberta NDP's next leader, but Naheed Nenshi. 

The representative for Edmonton-Whitemud on Tuesday announced she was quitting the leadership race to support Calgary's former mayor. 

In a statement, she said she was doing so after receiving the first update on Alberta NDP membership sales since Nenshi entered the race on March 11. 

"Those numbers show that, in the span of a week, Naheed has more than doubled the size of the Alberta NDP’s membership. Growing our party has always been and will continue to be my first priority," Pancholi said.

"Rather than compete with each other, I want to unite us behind our shared visions and mutual goals." 

She continued, "We must move forward to offer a positive alternative to the UCP that Albertans can enthusiastically support in the next election. 

"And I believe that means uniting behind the next leader, Naheed Nenshi." 

According to Nenshi's campaign website, he has received endorsements from more than 6,000 Albertans. 

Neither that number nor the membership data has been confirmed by CTV News Edmonton. 

Alberta NDP's executive director Garett Spelliscy said the party would not be releasing membership data before the window to buy memberships closes on April 22 and all sales are validated. 

"At this stage, prior to this rigorous process and prior to the vote, it’s impossible to attribute membership sales to any individual leadership candidate. This process is essential to a fair and competitive race," Spelliscy said. 

On May 12, the balloting deadline, the party will reveal how many members are eligible to vote on a leader. 

As of Dec. 21, the party had 16,224 members. 

'Looking forward to working with Naheed'

Pancholi, an Edmonton-raised lawyer who has served as the Official Opposition's education critic since 2021 and as the children's services critic before that, was the second to enter the leadership contest in early February. 

On Tuesday, she called quitting the race a difficult decision: "I’m so proud of the race that I’ve run and grateful to the thousands of Albertans who have supported me in the vision of building an Alberta NDP that creates opportunity for all of us – and for all our children." 

Pancholi also invited others to join her in supporting Nenshi. 

"I am looking forward to working with Naheed as we build this new vision. He has grown our party by bringing tens of thousands of Albertans into the Alberta NDP, broadening our movement significantly."

Ahead of a meet-and-greet at Edmonton's Polish Hall Tuesday evening, Nenshi thanked Pancholi for her support.

"This endorsement meant so much to me, both because of what it is, but also who it is. I have been a huge admirer of Rakhi Pancholi essentially since she entered public life in 2019," he told reporters.

Nenshi said he couldn't comment on the number of memberships he had sold until they had been verified, but said he's been pleased by the response from Albertans.

"I have been overwhelmed by the number of folks who have come up, it's far, far beyond any of my expectations," he commented.

"They feel that for the first time in a long time, they've been given the permission in the space to dream to dream of a better Alberta. And for me, that's what's been overwhelming and energizing." 

Nenshi's four remaining opponents shrugged off any suggestion that he was leading the race, with Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse calling such speculation "premature" and Sarah Hoffman saying she's "never felt better" about her campaign. Kathleen Ganley, the only other Calgary candidate, told CTV News Calgary she was focusing on her own campaign, while Gil McGowan said he does not believe the race is a "done deal." 

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