Rachel Notley to step down as Alberta NDP leader

Former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley will step aside as provincial NDP leader as soon as party members choose her replacement.

'We are not a one-party province' outgoing NDP leader says

A woman and a man stand behind a podium.
Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley announced Tuesday she was stepping down from the top job within the party. (Camille Pauvarel/Radio-Canada)

Former Alberta premier Rachel Notley will step aside as provincial NDP leader as soon as party members choose her replacement.

Flanked by her husband and two adult children, Notley told an Edmonton news conference Tuesday the NDP's failure to win government in Alberta's 2023 election means it's time for her to step down as leader.

Notley, who has spent almost a decade as the party's leader, said she has been motivated to stay on in opposition to give Alberta voters a credible progressive option.

"We are not a one-party province where Albertans have no real choice about how their province is to be run," the 59-year-old said. "Albertans do not ever have to feel that elections and their opinions do not matter."

The longest-serving MLA currently sitting in Alberta's legislature, Notley was first elected to represent the Edmonton-Strathcona riding in 2008 — a role she says she'll continue for now.

She followed in the footsteps of her late father, Grant Notley, also an NDP leader and the party's sole MLA for 11 years in the 1970s and early 1980s.

A woman looks into the distance.
Notley announced Tuesday she intends to step down as party leader. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Notley struggled to hold back tears as she recounted her parents' belief in the importance of public service.

"I wish they could have been here to see some of what we've all been able to accomplish together," she said.

Notley led the NDP to an upset electoral victory in 2015, ending 44 years of Progressive Conservative rule in the province.

Alberta's 17th premier, Notley won the 2015 election with 54 seats — a massive increase from the NDP's four-member caucus in 2012. Support for other left-of-centre alternatives collapsed that year and flowed to the NDP.

WATCH | Notley announces she's stepping down:

Rachel Notley announces intention to step down as leader of the Alberta NDP

3 months ago
Duration 1:36
Rachel Notley, the official Opposition leader, said the party will organize a leadership race and she will stay on as leader until members choose a replacement.

Notley said Tuesday her defeat by a united conservative movement in the 2019 election gave her pause about whether she would continue in the top job.

But after four years as Opposition leader, Notley and her team won 38 of the legislature's 87 seats in May 2023, forming the largest Opposition in the province's history.

Politics watchers and party insiders have been questioning her political future ever since.

Notley said she stayed for the fall 2023 sitting to shepherd 19 new MLAs into their roles, and that work is now done.

She cited reductions to child poverty, incentivizing investments in renewable energy and creating a $15-an-hour minimum wage as some of her top accomplishments.

But altering the dynamics of the province's electoral politics is the legacy she wants people to remember.

Progressive ideas now have a chance of becoming policy in Alberta, she said.

Coy about her long-term career plans either inside or outside politics, Notley said she is not interested in any federal political role.

Tributes for her service

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, United Conservative Party Premier Danielle Smith thanked Notley for her dedication.

"Serving as premier is an extremely demanding job, and she served in that office with an honour and dignity reminiscent of her late father," Smith wrote.

B.C. Premier David Eby said Notley "did the impossible and changed the face of Alberta politics, all while keeping the focus on people."

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh called Notley a "formidable leader" in a statement, and said she has inspired New Democrats across Canada.

"As she takes this difficult decision, I hope Rachel has a chance to reflect on just how momentous her political career has been for our party and for the people she's represented," Singh's statement said.

WATCH | A policy wonk who saw serving as a privilege:

Rachel Notley knows Alberta 'inside and out,' says journalist who profiled her

3 months ago
Duration 6:24
Christina Frangou, a Calgary-based journalist who profiled Rachel Notley, looks back at the career of the outgoing Alberta NDP leader, who she described as a policy wonk who viewed serving in politics as a privilege

Former Alberta Liberal leader and Opposition leader Dr. David Swann said not since Peter Lougheed has he seen a politician in the province with Notley's commitment to serving the public interest.

"She's been a sterling leader and a real advocate for the long-term interests of Albertans," he said.

Competitive leadership race to come

Notley's departure will prompt a leadership race unlike any the provincial party has seen before.

In a statement, party president Nancy Janovicek said members of the party's provincial council will meet in Red Deer on Jan. 27 to determine the start and end dates for the leadership campaign, and to consider draft contest rules.

The party says it had 16,224 members as of Dec. 31.

Janovicek said it will be the most competitive leadership contest in Alberta NDP history.

Notley said she won't endorse any candidate, but called on contenders to keep the party united.

'End of an era'

Cheryl Oates, a consultant who worked as Notley's communications director in government and led her election campaigns, called her resignation "the end of an era."

Oates said a leadership race is an opportunity for renewal of the Alberta NDP. She said she hopes candidates will follow Notley's example.

"She has been a principled role model, a principled politician, in an era where those are very few and far between," Oates said.

As donations to the Alberta NDP ballooned during the last decade, Oates said the party is a more professional machine, with more members, volunteers and resources than it has ever had.

"I think the NDP's move to become a big-tent party is a fundamental part of its success," she said of the party's slide to the centre of the political spectrum under Notley's leadership.

University of Calgary political science professor Lisa Young called Notley a "transformational figure in Alberta politics."

For years, political observers were waiting for a centre-left party to make a breakthrough, and Notley's political talents brought it to fruition in 2015, Young said.

What Young is watching now is whether the Alberta NDP has built enough of a political machine to succeed without her.

"It is entirely possible that without Notley, the NDP fades back into the kind of perpetual opposition party it was before," she said.

With files from Lauren Fink, Erin Collins, Michelle Bellefontaine and the Canadian Press