NDP leadership candidate Sarah Hoffman in her Edmonton riding, she officially announced her candidacy this morning (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

First of all, Sarah Hoffman knows who she is and she has no apologies.

“Women like me aren’t supposed to be in politics, right? I’m fat. I’m sassy. And I have a really hard time pretending to be somebody that I’m not.”

The former NDP health minister calls the completion of the Calgary Cancer Centre one of her proudest achievements (Photo: Aryn Toombs/Livewire Calgary).

So she’s not going to. 

Which means there’s no point for her critics on social media to continue whispering about her appearance, Ms. Hoffman said in an exclusive interview before the launch this morning of her campaign to replace Rachel Notley as leader of the Alberta NDP. “There’s nothing to whisper about,” she says bluntly. “This is just who I am.”

Male politicians on the right and in the United States can get away with being who they are, the Edmonton-Glenora MLA observed, pointing to the un-svelte Donald Trump. “So, we can be who we are here too, and we can own it on the left.”

“I’m leaning into it!”

Opposition Leader Rachel Notley, who is stepping aside as soon as a new leader is chosen (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

So get used to it, and don’t imagine having an army of Internet bots tweeting mean things about her will make any difference! 

In case you were wondering, as some obviously have been, something else the health minister in Ms. Notley’s cabinet from 2015 to 2019 is not going to pretend to be is a Liberal.

Under her leadership, she vowed, the Alberta NDP would continue to be true to its New Democratic roots. 

Whether or not the Alberta NDP should legally disaffiliate itself from the 62-year-old federal party or adopt a new name had already become a hot topic among the commentariat and some factions of the party, even before retiring Ontario MP Charlie Angus launched his private member’s bill about banning advertisements by Big Oil, getting the right-wing Twittersphere to spin like a top. 

Well, for the record, Ms. Hoffman was a New Democrat before it was popular in Alberta and she will remain one. “I’m unapologetic about my values,” she told me. “And I think that they’re the ones that we need to help solve these really difficult times.”

Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Rakhi Pancholi was the first candidate to lead the Alberta NDP to suggest that the federal government’s consumer carbon tax is not working (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

“I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been a new Democrat for a long time,” she continued. “And I’m proud of the fact that the federal party is why we have medicare, the Canada Health Act, pensions, the CPP.” These programs spring from NDP values that the overwhelming majority of Canadians support, she said, in particular the Canada Pension Plan and public health insurance. 

So that should inform us all that, as leader of the Opposition or premier, Ms. Hoffman wouldn’t lose enthusiasm for the NDP’s determination to preserve the CPP for Albertans, or her commitment to address the cost-of-living crisis with aggressive action to control housing costs, the biggest inflationary pressure people now face. 

But what about that carbon tax? 

When Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Rakhi Pancholi launched her NDP leadership campaign on Thursday, her revelation she would consider dropping the carbon tax if other measures could be found to replace it generated intense interest in media. 

Speaking with Ms. Hoffman, it sounds as if this idea has been percolating in more than one corner of the NDP, perhaps especially now that Ms. Notley is officially, as our American friends put it, a lame duck. 

The consumer carbon tax is “dead in the water,” Ms. Hoffman said. 

Some parts of the Notley Government’s Climate Leadership Plan worked, she explained. “We reduced methane in a substantial way. Danielle Smith is bragging about it all over the world. We got rid of coal-fired power for this province, I think that’s had a lasting positive environmental impact. The industrial polluter-pay carbon tax for large industrial emitters has worked. …

“But the consumer based carbon tax has not,” she continued. “It became a federal tax. And then Justin Trudeau completely broke confidence in it when he tried to pick winners and losers and exempt parts of Eastern Canada, where they had seats, from paying the tax. That is a broken model, it has no public confidence.”

So the days are numbered for the consumer carbon tax, Ms. Hoffman believes. “Justin Trudeau has completely bungled this whole project. And I think he’s left at Canadians with no confidence. I think it’s dead in the water.”

That said, she added, “the public does need us to address climate change. We’re in February, and we’ve got extreme drought. Catastrophic drought is on the horizon. Wildfires have only been getting worse year after year.” 

Door-knocking in Calgary recently, she was struck by how many people expressed concern about air quality so bad their kids couldn’t play outdoor sports. “When the air is unsafe to breathe, you need to take urgent action.”

And urgent action against climate change, she said, must include strengthening the polluter pay principle, and ensuring that energy companies, making record profits, pay their fair share of measures to reduce carbon outputs and clean up pollution. 

Ms. Hoffman was probably Alberta’s most successful health minister in the past half century, possibly longer. Given her record in that office, she naturally had many thoughts about what can be done to improve the disastrous deterioration in health care that has occurred under the UCP. 

Ms. Hoffman said she was particularly proud of her successes “stopping harassment outside of abortion clinics; making sure that women were able to access the abortion pill, that it was fully funded, we were the first jurisdiction in Canada to do that; making sure that we expanded services for midwifery. …

“And (in) every major centre in this province,” she continued, “you could get a family doctor – that certainly isn’t the case today! 

“Oh! Plus building the Calgary Cancer Centre, the Misericordia expansion, small projects too, like the (neonatal intensive care unit) in the St. Albert hospital. Those types of things have a lasting impact.”

“We need a government that governs based on evidence, partnership, and relationship,” she summarized. “It wasn’t always easy … but we had some great outcomes when we were in government. So I think Day 1 of a Sarah Hoffman premiership, we sit down with all the folks who’ve had their trust broken with the Conservatives and we start rebuilding it.”

Contrast that with the UCP, she said. “This current government doesn’t want solutions. They want to undermine public health care. They want to create new org charts and blow things up, so that people lose confidence in public health care.”

“So being unrelenting on who we are as New Democrats, and that New Democrats brought us public health care, and New Democrats believe in it, we will make sure that we fix it and that it is stronger for the next generation.”

“I am adamantly opposed to privatization,” she added. “I believe in publicly funded and publicly delivered health care. I think that that’s where we get the best bang for our buck, when we take profit out of essential services, like health care.”

And having grown up in rural Alberta – in the tiny hamlet of Kinuso, between Slave Lake and High Prairie and surrounded by the Swan River First Nation, where her parents were teachers – Ms. Hoffman said she is determined to preserve and enhance Alberta’s rural hospitals. 

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  1. It’s refreshing to see someone in politics to serve. Most politicians these days (looking at you Marlaina) are only in it to line their pockets and/or grab power to further their ideologies.

  2. It’s not a tax if it is rebated. Which it is. What the hell is going on with this topic at the NDP? It was introduced by conservatives, touted by significant economists as the best strategy to fight climate change so… If these candidates are going to push this they better have a plan to replace it right after they say they want to scrap it.

    1. Because a tax on consumer spending only really effects those consumers with limits on their spending. Very rich people (who are the only ones driving climate change with their CONSUMER spending) don’t care at all. See; Taylor.

      So not only is it a regressive tax that primarily effects poor people, it’s not effective because it has no effect on the consumer spending of those who truly matter.

      While we are talking about it, it is in fact INDUSTRY of many different kinds that is driving climate change, not so much consumer spending. The energy consumed by the oil sands (tar sands ?) whatever, greatly exceeds energy consumed by alberta consumers.

      I’ll tell you one more thing, the reason that conservative politicians (used to) and economists love carbon taxes is because they can pretend they’re addressing climate change when it’s true cause is exponentially growing capitalism. It’s very much a stand around and -look busy so we don’t have to meaningfully disrupt the networks from which we depend on for our power- kind of move.

      1. una: The jurisdiction in North American to “put a price on carbon” was the Progressive Conservative Government of Alberta in 2007, the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation. This is hardly a secret. It is quite fair to call this a carbon tax. The first consumer carbon tax in Canada was introduced by the Quebec Liberals later the same year. DJC

        1. With due respect Una I believe you’re missing the thrust of my point: “putting a price on carbon” has until recently enjoyed broad support across all parties, for the reason I suggested.
          It’s not a meaningful challenge to rich consumers and certainly not to oil and gas companies, who are the richest and most powerful companies in history, likely.

  3. Hello DJC and fellow commenters,
    I don’t have an opinion yet on who would be the most suitable candidate to replace Rachel Notley, but the prospect of a Sarah Hoffman premiership does sound appealing.

  4. On the health care file, Hoffman would be a strong player. However, is she willing to bear some of the responsibility in her role as Health Minister? The damage to public health care is a slow-motion collapse, that began before the UCP decided to kick the roof in.

    1. I’m with you on this. It’s good to hear about the initiatives she’s taking credit for, but here in Red Deer, the NDP completely took the wind out of my sails. When we elected them, I told everyone that the Red Deer Regional Hospital was sure to finally get at least a little love. Instead, absolute crickets for 4 years. Our need was desperate during her term, and it was ignored. It makes me ill that it was the UCP who finally stepped up and funded an expansion, more than a decade after it should have been an urgent priority.

      I love what David wrote about Sarah Hoffman generally, but I am really concerned that she was de-prioritizing Red Deer. I hope it’s not the case, and I hope she can articulate that believably. ‘Cause it’s a tough sell around here…

  5. Authenticity and being comfortable with yourself are actually two great assets in politics. The voters can usually spot a phony and generally do not like them.

    However, its fairly clear after the last two elections Alberta voters (or at least a majority of them) are not looking for a party exactly the same as the one which won in 2015. So, another great asset is at least some new, slightly different ideas.

    I feel this race has the potential for the various candidates so far to offer most or all of the above great assets. It would be good to have a few more candidates add their voices and ideas to the mix, but these are already three excellent candidates who will I feel make for a good and exciting race.

  6. I like what she says and stands for. The right wants to abolish everything that makes Canada who we are, like health care, CPP, all brought to you by the NDP. They want to undo Canada, rebrand us as Little America.

  7. The double standard in politics for the physical appearance of a candidate is disgusting. You could bet your last dollar that Ralph Klein and Jason Kenney never had any offers to appear on the cover of GQ.

    As for the price on carbon. That is an excellent policy. The only rap on it by the experts is that it is should be higher.

  8. The consumer carbon tax is “dead in the water,” Ms. Hoffman said.

    WTAF! This is now the second leadership hopeful adopting right-wing talking points. First off Carbon Pricing is NOT a tax. We get more back in rebates than we pay into it. For a supposed New Democrat to say this is akin to blasphemy. Neither Hoffman, nor Pancholi will get my vote. What the hell is wrong with these people? If they want to be conservatives then they should just drop out.

  9. The NDP are the closest thing we have to a Peter Lougheed style government in Alberta. Under the UCP, it’s a big mess.

  10. It will be a difficult vote for NDP party leadership with three good potential leaders and maybe more to come. I will have a lot of decision making.

  11. Any party that stands mainly, if no solely, for funding social programs will NEVER get traction in Alberta. Surely the NDP can find a candidate who puts as much effort into supporting business and personal initiative, rather than ignoring it. Peter Lougheed is remembered to this day because he was able to do both.

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