CALGARY — Former Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi came out of political retirement on Monday, announcing a run for Alberta's NDP leadership to challenge what he termed an “immoral” United Conservative government.

"This government is like nothing I've ever seen before,” Nenshi told The Canadian Press in an interview prior to the announcement.

“They're not only incompetent. They're dangerous and they're immoral.”

Nenshi, 52, was elected mayor of Calgary in 2010 and won three terms before deciding to bow out before the 2021 municipal election.

He said it was time to come back and choose a side.

"Some people have said to me 'You need to come in and take over this party. You need to be the saviour of Alberta,'" he said.

"The party doesn't need to be saved. Three-quarters of a million Albertans voted for it in the last election. What we need to do is broaden the base."

Nenshi spoke out against Premier Danielle Smith’s government as recently as last month, criticizing new policies surrounding transgender Albertans, including parental notification if children want to change their names or pronouns at school.

Nenshi said his name recognition may help in the race, but said he doesn't see himself as the favourite.

Former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi announces his bid to succeed Rachel Notley as leader of #Alberta's #NDP. #abpoli

"I haven't sold a single membership. I'm starting from way back, but I'm good at being an underdog and figuring out how to win from there," he said.

NDP members are to choose a successor for longtime party leader Rachel Notley in June.

There are now six candidates vying to lead the party, which after last year’s election became the largest Opposition in provincial history.

Political science professor Lori Williams said Nenshi brings a high profile to the race along with an opportunity to draw broader support from the centre-left of the political spectrum, including those who would otherwise back the provincial Liberals or the Alberta Party.

"It's not just that he's got a high profile and political skills in terms of being able to connect with people - a bit of that common touch that's so important in politics," said Williams, with Mount Royal University in Calgary.

"He's generated a whole bunch of energy and enthusiasm that wasn't there before.

"If people are enthused about the possibility of Naheed Nenshi as leader of the party, if that momentum gets going, I think it's his race to lose."

But Williams said Nenshi must overcome concern from some party supporters who will view him as an outsider and opportunist.

Nenshi joins MLA Kathleen Ganley as the two candidates from Calgary, a key battleground site in a province where the NDP dominates in Edmonton and the UCP holds sway in the smaller cities and rural areas.

Ganley, who served as justice minister in Notley’s government, took aim at a potential Nenshi run in recent media interviews, saying Nenshi gave a “tepid” endorsement to the NDP during the last election and that she doubts he can lead the party to victory in 2027.

Edmonton legislature members Sarah Hoffman, Rakhi Pancholi and Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse are also running as is Gil McGowan, the head of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

Notley announced her plans to step down in January after a decade at the helm of the provincial New Democrats. She has said she would not be endorsing any candidate to replace her.

The NDP's May 2023 election loss was the second in a row under Notley.

Her party ended a 44-year Progressive Conservative dynasty in 2015 with a surprise majority government only to be trounced four years later by Jason Kenney's UCP.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2024.

— With files from Lauren Krugel

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albertans will be nuts to pass on Nenshi. he knows how to get press, hes proved he gets things done FOR PEOPLE NOT CORPS and is unafraid to take on the wackjobs in power