By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on January 18, 2024.
Will Shannon Phillips be seeking the leadership of the Alberta New Democratic Party?
The Lethbridge West MLA and party finance critic whose focus is on insurance and premiums, says she has a decision to make “PDQ.”
Phillips, in a phone interview on Wednesday, said she’s had correspondence of virtually every kind – except for people showing up on her doorstep – asking her that question.
And the MLA says when she makes a decision, members and supporters of the Lethbridge NDP and the executive of the Lethbridge West NDP constituency will hear about it first.
“I’ve received a lot of people since the election asking me what I want to do and if I will pursue the job of leadership. In the last 24 hours, I’ve received every possible form of correspondence – phone calls, emails, direct messages on every possible technology platformâ€¦people are asking.”
Notley announced on Tuesday she will be stepping down as leader of the party she has helmed since 2014.
The 59-year-old labour lawyer was first elected to the legislature in 2008. Her father Grant Notley was also a leader of the provincial party, a career cut short when he was killed in a 1984 plane crash. He was only 45 years old.
She will be staying on as leader until the party replaces her.
For Phillips, the next leader of the party will be one who continues what Notley has built upon, stays true to the party’s core values and who can broaden the party’s appeal in Alberta.
Having won her seat for three elections in a traditional conservative community, can Phillips be that person?
“I know what I am looking forward in a leadership candidate which is someone that can continue on what Rachel has built, stay true to our values but grow the party in the ways that we need to, to win government in 2027 and that means winning outside of Edmonton. It means getting out of Edmonton in a lot of ways, it means making sure the party has a broad appeal, not just in Calgary but in the small cities.
“Certainly I know how to do that. I have won the elections in a small southern Alberta city. I think we could replicate that success elsewhere and certainly that’s what I’ll be looking for as a result out of this leadership contest,” said Phillips.
First elected to represent her riding in 2015, Phillips has known Notley since well before the Lethbridge MLA entered the political arena herself.
The first Phillips met Notley was on the 1997 campaign that Raj Pannu won in Edmonton Strathcona, she recalls.
“I’m a very old New Democrat. I’ve been in this party around 25 years and she was in B.C. at that time,” said Phillips.
“The thing that you need to know about Rachel Notley is what you see is what you get. She is as authentic, genuine but also as whip-smart a person who has ever walked this earth. And she governed both the party and the province with ethics, with integrity and with authenticity,” qualities which the MLA said resulted in her success.
Phillips recalls when the price of West Texas Intermediate hit $28 in 2016. She was at a Treasury Board meeting and remembers holding her head in her hand “because we had tough choices to make.
“And Rachel made the decision that while people were being thrown out of work left, right and centre in the oilpatch that we would make sure that we invested in job training programs and other things of that nature, we talked to the federal government about the extension of EI, we had the federal government invest in fiscal stabilization,” said Phillips.
The NDP also took efforts to safeguard the forestry sector which were the only jobs because in some rural communities “those were the only jobs keeping the lights on.”
The party decided at the time it wouldn’t make a bad situation worse by throwing tens of thousands of teachers and nurses out of work by cutting healthcare and education, she said, “so we ended up having to run a deficit.
“Those were not easy decisions. We would have preferred a balanced budget.”
The party, she said, “gifted” Jason Kenney in 2019 a stable economy and stable public services “that he then took the machete to.”
Phillips has also heard from constituents since Tuesday about their appreciation for Notley’s leadership.
“I’ve heard from so many people in Lethbridge over the last 24 hours who are so grateful for Rachel’s leadership, for growing the party into the big, competitive political machine it is today capable of competing and winning a government, for showing people that democracy can work in Alberta. We are not a one-party state and that Albertans really do have the ability to have a say in how this government is run. I’ve heard from people here in Lethbridge who are so grateful for the leadership that she showed on investing health care, education and services, particularly during a recession that was caused by the global downturn in the price of oil, they’re grateful for what we did to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and diversify the economy.
“They’re grateful for the time Rachel cut child poverty in half and invested in housing and did so at a time when we had historically low oil prices and we returned to a path to a balanced budget,” said Phillips.
In last year’s provincial election, the NDP won 38 seats, becoming the largest Opposition in Alberta’s history.