NDP Leader Rachel Notley courts conservative voters in campaign’s final days

With Alberta’s election just days away, Postmedia is reporting from the campaign trail as party leaders work to shore up support before April 16. Provincial Affairs reporter Clare Clancy is following NDP Leader Rachel Notley’s campaign.

NANTON — NDP Leader Rachel Notley stands on a hay bale in the centre of a barn, flanked by supporters wearing plaid and cowboy hats against a scenic prairie backdrop.

It’s the picture-perfect image of rural Alberta, where the NDP have consistently lagged behind the UCP in polls.

And it’s a chance for Notley to highlight her latest message — that former Progressive Conservative voters have a place with the NDP.

The campaign stop is an event with Livingstone-Macleod candidate Cam Gardner, a fourth-generation rancher who declares that the last party membership he had was for the PCs in 2015.

“I truly believe Rachel is here to serve Albertans, and she’s got a long vision for the future of this province,” said Gardner, a former councillor and reeve with the Municipal District of Ranchland. “I’m there, win or lose, to support her as long as it takes.”

Taking the microphone, Notley retorts that Gardner represents “all that is best of Alberta,” and he’s the kind of person the NDP want in a re-elected government.

At the rural campaign stop Thursday, Notley feeds a baby calf and uses her characteristic off-the-cuff humour to joke about a horse that nuzzles bystanders.

“I’m feeling right now that I’m being heavily lobbied for … an equine vacation plan or something, or wild horse massage therapy,” she said to laughs.

It’s the kind of banter that comes easily to Notley on the campaign trail, while supporters thrust babies at her to hold and pose with her for selfies.

Her tour through southern Alberta, where NDP signs seem scattered amongst seemingly more consistent blue conservative logos, ends with a rally in Lethbridge, where candidates Shannon Phillips (Lethbridge-West) and Maria Fitzpatrick (Lethbridge-East) are facing tough races.

But during the campaign’s final days, it’s Calgary where she plans to spend the bulk of her time. And it’s the conservative Calgary vote that she’s after.

“My riding is in Edmonton, I’ve been an Edmonton MLA since 2008. I think the people of Edmonton know me, know what I stand for,” she said Thursday morning at a Calgary café event.

“Even though I’ve been premier for four years, it is true that Calgarians are still getting to know me and what I stand for,” she said.

“I think there’s a lot more volatility in the vote in Calgary right now, so I’m really interested in having the conversation down here as much as I can.”

On Friday, Notley released a campaign video calling on former conservatives to consider a vote for the NDP. She doubled down on her message, telling voters that if they are considering casting a ballot for the Alberta Party or Liberal Party, think instead about the NDP.

“We are at a crossroads in this election,” she said at the Grand Theatre in downtown Calgary. “The best way to make sure we take the right direction … is by buying a ticket for the vehicle that has the most gas, and I suggest that’s ours.”

Later during an interview in Canmore, where she campaigned with NDP candidate Cam Westhead who has adopted the charming Obama-style slogan “yes we Cam,” Notley reiterates that the NDP has a “path to victory.”

She said the NDP are gaining momentum in Calgary, despite polls continuing to tilt in favour of UCP Leader Jason Kenney.

“We know the areas that we can win, and we know there are enough of them that we could still win a majority government,” she said.

The sentiment harkens back to her campaign rallies, where she has repeated the line that “Alberta doesn’t belong to anyone but Albertans.”

In Lethbridge, she told the crowd not to count the NDP out.

“Alberta elections have a way of surprising you … I think this one will too.”

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