For the past ten years, Edmonton-Strathcona has been an orange island in a sea of blue. Now with three-term Member of Parliament Linda Duncan choosing to retire when the next federal election is called, members of the New Democratic Party in Edmonton-Strathcona will be gathering on November 26, 2018 to select a new candidate to carry their party’s banner in the only district held by the federal NDP in Alberta.
Two candidates have stepped forward to seek the party’s nomination.
Heather McPherson has progressive credentials as the executive director of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation and volunteer team leader with Médecins Sans Frontières. She is the former president of the local NDP association and has the endorsement of big names in the NDP establishment, including Duncan and former MLA and provincial party leader Raj Pannu.
Paige Gorsak, a 26-year old community organizer, University of Alberta graduate student and library assistant with Edmonton’s Public Library, is McPherson’s only challenger. Gorsak is running a unabashedly democratic socialist campaign that focuses on social justice issues that push beyond the centre-leftish territory many NDP politicians have staked out in recent years.
Gorsak’s campaign has the feel of the movement personified by Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, the most high-profile member of a wave of Democratic Socialists running in the American mid-term elections earlier this month.
Gorsak has been featured in a series of powerful videos on social media and is advocating for change on a wide-range of issues including transition to a 100% renewable energy economy, the elimination of post-secondary tuition and student debt, the creation of free universal childcare and a universal single-payer pharmacare program, and full Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination for First Nations, including a guarantee of treaty rights to education, the full implementation of UNDRIP and the full implementation of Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action. The list goes on.
Despite the federal district overlapping an area represented by five NDP MLAs, including Premier Rachel Notley, Transportation Minister Brian Mason, Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt, and Housing Minister Lori Sigurdson, Duncan’s provincial counterparts have been publicly quiet about the selection of her successor. But their silence should not be taken as an indication they do not have strong feelings about who should win.
The tension between the federal and provincial NDP in Alberta, especially over the issue of oil development and pipeline construction, has been palpable. Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has taken a position against the expansion of the federal government-owned Trans Mountain Pipeline, a project Notley had spent an incredible amount of political capital trying to get done.
Gorsak’s call for a transition away from non-renewable energy economy has also made her a target of United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney on social media. But her campaign has responded to Kenney’s attacks with ease and humour, demonstrating that when it comes to issues like climate change, she is not afraid to stake ground outside the provincial NDP’s comfort zone.
Holding on to Edmonton-Strathcona in 2019 will be a tough battle for the NDP, but if the 2015 federal election is any indication, the federal NDP will not find success by tacking to the political centre and mirroring the path traditionally taken by the Liberal Party. The federal NDP should push the limits and provide an exciting and compelling argument for progressive social change. If there is anywhere in Alberta where that kind of message will resonate, it will be in Edmonton-Strathcona.
And Paige Gorsak looks like she could be up to that challenge.
Other parties yet to nominate in Edmonton-Strathcona
The other parties are also in the process of nominating their candidates in this district. Julia Bareman and Sam Lilly are seeking the Conservative Party nomination and Eleanor Olszewski is seeking the Liberal Party nomination. Olszewski earned 20.7 percent of the vote as the Liberal Party candidate in the 2015 federal election.