OTTAWA — The federal New Democrats are eyeing Alberta's urban-rural divide as a way to flip blue seats in the next general election.
Leader Jagmeet Singh's recent visit to Edmonton is part of a shift in the party's approach that will have him spend more time in fewer places as a way to deepen connections with people in certain regions of Canada.
And one clear opening is Alberta, said his chief of staff Jennifer Howard.
She believes Alberta's recent provincial election shows voters in the urban Prairies are rejecting politicians who peddle conspiracy theories, talk about the World Economic Forum and bash the media.
Both Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and Alberta Premier Danielle Smith have rejected future involvement with the World Economic Forum, which hosts an annual gathering of global political and business leaders in Davos, Switzerland.
The international organization has long been a target by conspiracy theorists on the left side of the political spectrum, but in recent years has also been the focus of right-wing conspiracy theories. They claim the forum is fronting a global cabal of string-pullers who exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to dismantle capitalism and to introduce damaging socialist systems and social control measures.
Poilievre told supporters during last year's leadership campaign that Conservative cabinet ministers would not take part in WEF events "you can't be part of our government and working for a policy agenda that is the against the interests of our people." Smith cancelled a health consulting agreement with the WEF last year, saying it was "bragging about how much control they have over political leaders."
The federal New Democrats view this type of rhetoric as an opportunity to reach voters who are looking for other options.
"It doesn't speak to folks, and it doesn't speak to folks in cities and suburbs who are very focused on pretty practical matters," said Howard, who argued city dwellers are more focused on health care, the cost of living and climate change.
The federal party watched in May as Alberta New Democrats gained 14 seats, shutting out the United Conservative Party in Edmonton and winning more seats in Calgary, the UCP's traditional urban base.
"Although it's not always a straight line from provincial support and federal support, these are voters who have voted NDP provincially," Howard said.
"This is not a completely new thing to them, so I'm hopeful that we can expand our reach in places like Edmonton and Saskatoon."
Howard points to the electoral district of Edmonton Griesbach as reason for their high hopes in Alberta, even though the party has just two Alberta seats in the House of Commons.
That was a former Conservative stronghold that flipped to the NDP's Blake Desjarlais in the 2021 election, making him Canada's first openly Two-Spirit member of Parliament.
"What we saw there is people feeling like their Conservative MP wasn't representing them or fighting for the kinds of things they need in their lives, and wasn't totally in touch with their values around different issues," Howard said.
"We've seen that deepen under Pierre Poilievre."
The New Democrats recently launched a fundraising campaign called the "Blue-Orange Battleground Fund" in an effort to help them turn constituencies from blue to orange.
Heather McPherson, member of Parliament for Edmonton Strathcona, said the NDP brand is stronger after Alberta's general election, but she acknowledges there's a lot work to do before voters head to the polls.
The next federal election has to take place by Oct. 20, 2025, but could happen well before then.
Until then, the NDP's approach is to convince voters they are able to get things done in Ottawa by pointing to their track record.
Under the party's confidence-and-supply agreement with the Liberals, the NDP pushed for affordability initiatives including dental care, a one-time rental supplement and the doubling of the GST rebate.
The party is also eyeing stronger candidates, sending MPs to campaign in Saskatchewan so that it can win back a seat in a province where it currently has zero, and meeting with municipalities.
"For a long time people thought of Alberta as conservative, but we saw in the last provincial election we are not a conservative place, particularly not in our urban ridings," McPherson said.
"I think conservatives have taken that for granted for a really long time."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 22, 2023.
Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press