From having just two seats in the Legislature in 2008 to forming government in 2015 and solidifying Alberta as a two-party province after decades of Progressive Conservative rule, there’s no denying Alberta’s NDP has come a long way.

But at what cost?

The historically social-democratic party explicitly pivoted to the centre in an effort to win over soft-conservative voters in the 2019 and 2023 elections against a united right. In neither case was this sufficient to get over the finish line, although the party markedly improved its vote share from 2019 to 2023.

Beneath the surface, discontent has been brewing. Ricochet spoke with more than a dozen NDP volunteers, candidates, and former MLAs, both on and off the record, including some who have left the party and others who remain in an effort to influence it from within. Some were involved with the party during the days when it had only a handful of MLAs, while others got involved after the 2019 defeat.

They describe a party that has lost its way and whose centralized apparatus tightly controls messaging, running roughshod over the will of local volunteers, who feel they are treated as nothing more than units of fundraising for the party. Those who have criticized the party internally believe they have been belittled and their concerns dismissed.

In their view, Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley’s tight grip on party operations, enforced by a close coterie of staffers — including director of organization Garett Spelliscy, chief of staff Jeremy Nolais, party executive director Brandon Stevens, and recently retired caucus executive director Sandra Houston, among others — is a major part of the problem.

Alberta NDP sources, including past and present staff, volunteers and candidates, describe a party with a tightly controlled and centralized apparatus that is no longer listening to the grassroots.

Some explicitly liken Notley’s top-heavy leadership approach to that of former premier Jason Kenney or former prime minister Stephen Harper.

Those who remain in the party fold, or have jobs that preclude them from publicly discussing partisan politics, will be referred to pseudonymously in this story.

Ricochet sent a list of detailed questions outlining the allegations in this story to the Alberta NDP.

“Many of your questions are based on false or misleading claims,” an unidentified party spokesperson stated in an email, without specifying which questions’ premises they disputed.
They said others “were asked and answered several years ago.”

This is not the first time there have been rumblings about how the party treats its staffers, volunteers, and prospective candidates, with previous allegations including favouritism, bullying, and harassment.

“Our party is committed to providing a safe, respectful, and welcoming environment for volunteers, for employees, and for all Albertans. But it’s clear that in some cases we have fallen short of that commitment,” NDP leader and former premier Rachel Notley conceded in June 2022, in response to a March 2022 letter from 15 party constituency presidents and regional VPs demanding a third-party investigation, which Notley proceeded to order.

Party representatives told the CBC the investigation was completed by fall 2022, resulting in mandatory human resources training in November and firmer anti-harassment policies passed at provincial council in March 2023. But the results of the investigation haven’t been made public.

An April 2023 letter from the party’s Indigenous People’s Caucus (IPC), which Ricochet has obtained and is reporting here for the first time, describes the new policy as having been drafted without an anti-racist or Indigenous lens and passed with “a very large gap in transparency.”

The spokesperson tells Ricochet that the results of its third-party audit were presented to party members at an October 22, 2022 provincial council meeting, which resulted in updated policies and the hiring of a Human Rights and Ethics Officer.

The party’s statement to Ricochet concluded with a threat of litigation.

“There should be great caution in reporting on baseless claims, several of which were referenced in the questions provided,” the spokesperson wrote, without identifying particular claims. “The party will consider its legal options if defamatory statements are published, in addition to any legal action taken by individuals.”

Indigenous caucus marginalized

The internal fracture is perhaps most clearly seen in how the party engaged with Indigenous members.

The April 24 IPC letter notes an “upholding of colonialism, whether conscious or unconscious, by party staff and leadership, and a refusal to incorporate de-colonial and active anti-racism and trauma-informed training in all party matters.”

It says Indigenous party members haven’t been consulted “on new policies which would have serious effects on party operations, prior to their implementation.” None of the policies passed at council in March, which are on the party’s website, contain the word “Indigenous.”

The letter lays out a “culture of party staff and leaders silencing our voices, while simultaneously maintaining barriers for potential Indigenous candidates,” and that Indigenous party members “are being treated with disrespect and disdain by party staff and leadership members on a regular basis.”

The caucus is asking that the party, which has formally endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), apologize for its lack of consultation and begin to implement anti-racist and trauma-informed training for staffers.

A “culture of party staff and leaders silencing our voices, while simultaneously maintaining barriers for potential Indigenous candidates,” and that Indigenous party members “are being treated with disrespect and disdain by party staff and leadership members on a regular basis.”

According to “Avery”, an Indigenous caucus member, the letter was circulated widely throughout the party’s membership, yet there’s been no action on its basic requests, which they called disappointing but unsurprising. “Well, it is Indigenous issues. Nobody ever seems to care,” Avery said.

Prior to the letter being written, the caucus had to work through backchannels to finally get a meeting with Notley, which occurred March 29 at 7pm. Notley attended with caucus executive director Sandra Houston, who told caucus leaders that Notley had a “hard out” at 7:45 p.m., the co-chairs told the rest of the IPC afterwards. “Nothing says truth and reconciliation like a hard out at 7:45,” quipped Avery.

The party spokesperson said the purpose of the meeting was “to draft these policies to make sure that the handbook guiding its [sic] implementation had an Indigenous perspective.”

“All changes and suggestions by members of the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus were accepted,” they said, highlighting the party’s intention “to work with the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus to ensure space for Indigenous traditions in the informal resolution of harassment complaints.”

Ricochet provided this portion of the NDP’s statement to Avery, who says that the changes the party mentions refer to the wording of a single document used to guide policy.

Marilyn North Peigan’s candidacy was revoked after a string of tweets responding to anti-Indigenous racism from a Calgary city councilor.


The NDP response to Ricochet’s inquiries, Avery says, still doesn’t acknowledge the existence of the IPC letter, let alone the concerns contained therein. The party statement, “appears to be a very weak attempt … to bait and switch.”

One incident that spurred the IPC’s concerns was the unilateral disqualification of Marilyn North Peigan, a Piikani Canadian Armed Forces veteran and Calgary police commissioner who won a contested nomination for the district of Calgary-Klein in November 2022.

Her candidacy was revoked after a string of tweets responding to anti-Indigenous racism from a Calgary city councilor, in which she alleged corruption at the Calgary Stampede.

Stevens told media that Peigan’s tweets were part of an unspecified “pattern of behaviour,” adding that he would be apologizing to the Stampede — an organization that, less than a year later, reached a settlement with victims of sexual abuse that occurred under their auspices.

In an interview with the Native Calgarian podcast, Peigan said that Nolais told her she wasn’t a “team player” after she suggested in a meeting, with host Michelle Robinson present, that staffers undergo cultural sensitivity training. A frustrated Peigan told off Nolais with an expletive.

After she submitted a complaint against Nolais, accusing him of perpetuating anti-Indigenous racism, the party told her she was under investigation, but she said the terms of the investigation were never disclosed to her. The party didn’t deny this.

The 2023 election saw the victory of two Edmonton-area Indigenous NDP candidates — Brooks Arcand-Paul and Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse — whom Avery said the party is “tokenizing” to cover up deep systemic issues with how it treats Indigenous party members.

Arcand-Paul and Stonehouse could not be reached for comment.

‘A gradual erosion of the party’s values’

How did we get here? “Alex”, a former Calgary-area volunteer and staffer, said they saw a “gradual erosion of the party’s values” once it formed government in 2015 — less than a year after Notley assumed the party leadership.

During and after the campaign, Alex says, Notley brought in “professional politicos, who get to travel across the country, work on campaigns and work in government, and then leave.” Alex believes these people, such as Notley’s inaugural chief of staff Brian Topp and his successor, Nathan Rotman, who is now an Airbnb lobbyist, lack an understanding of the province’s political dynamics. Both worked on the 2023 campaign.

“When it became very clear to me that they had a majority government, I was like, ‘Oh shit, Notley is going to really consolidate power.’”

A former Edmonton staffer, “Leslie,” says they had a “bad feeling” immediately after the party won in 2015.

“When it became very clear to me that they had a majority government, I was like, ‘Oh shit, Notley is going to really consolidate power,’” says Leslie, who worked on the rival leadership campaign of David Eggen.

Alex says it first occurred to them that the Alberta NDP had fundamentally changed after the party’s first year in government, when it instructed staff and volunteers to emphasize the party’s support for pipeline expansion, despite its stated climate commitments.

“That, to me, was the signal that this party is now just about winning elections. It’s not actually about standing for any values,” they recall.

Later, when federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who opposes the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, came to Alberta, volunteers and staffers were expressly forbidden from being seen with him publicly.

Leslie’s disenchantment kicked in within the first year, when the party made clear it would continue a PC policy that the NDP’s 2015 platform had described as ”relying on expensive, for-profit delivery of inadequate assisted living and homecare.”

When federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who opposes the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion visited the province, Alberta NDP volunteers and staffers were expressly forbidden from being seen with him publicly.


While Alex worked as a staffer for a cabinet minister, Alex says a backbench MLA attempted to get them fired for turning down the MLA’s romantic overtures. Alex says they told their boss’s chief of staff about the harassment, and were told the concern would be passed to the leader’s office, but the MLA wasn’t formally disciplined.

The Alberta NDP spokesperson declined to comment. “Details of any individual HR matters will remain confidential.”

In November 2018, Notley acknowledged there were two allegations of inappropriate conduct from NDP MLAs, which were addressed internally.

Alex hoped the party would rebuild and change track after its humiliating defeat in 2019, so they remained involved with their local constituency association (CA). Many on the party’s left, including Alex and Leslie, say they gritted their teeth and tolerated what they saw as the centrist pivot and mistreatment in the hopes the party would earn enough political capital to return to its social democratic roots.

But that never happened, and Alex quit the party last year.

Caucus expulsion

One person who didn’t bite their tongue through the party’s transformation was Robyn Luff, who was elected as the NDP MLA for Calgary-East in 2015. Her dissatisfaction with the party’s trajectory was such that she publicly referred to a “culture of fear and intimidation” within the NDP caucus. For this, she was expelled from caucus with a party statement that misspelled her given name as “Robin.”

“It was just the level of central control and the level of censorship that I saw starting to creep in.”

Luff, a teacher, was recruited by Notley to run for the NDP in the 2012 election. At that time, the entire NDP caucus consisted of just Notley and then-leader Brian Mason. In that election, the NDP doubled the size of its caucus, with Deron Bilious’s victory and the return of David Eggen, who previously represented an Edmonton riding from 2004 to 2008.

“They were talking about things that I cared about,” Luff recalls. “One of the reasons I ran in 2012 was because they were talking about rent control, they were talking about better education policies, they were talking about progressive income taxes and proportional representation.”

In 2018 Calgary-East MLA Robyn Luff was removed from caucus after refusing to sit in the legislature to protest “a culture of fear and intimidation” within the party.


Luff ran again in 2015 and had no expectation of victory at first. She only had four campaign volunteers. The Calgary-East incumbent was the PCs’ Moe Amery— father of current UCP Justice Minister Mickey Amery — who had represented the riding for 22 years. But she got swept up in the Orange Wave.

Like Alex, her disillusionment kicked in after the party’s first year in power. “It was just the level of central control and the level of censorship that I saw starting to creep in,” she says. That’s not to say the party didn’t implement progressive policies — they increased income taxes on the wealthy, pursued renewable energy, implemented a carbon tax, and updated labour laws.

But Luff says that anyone who suggested they needed to be bolder, or do a better job at communicating how their progressive policies would benefit Albertans, was berated by Notley’s inner circle.

“I was in a lot of meetings where someone made me cry just because they made me feel like my concerns weren’t real concerns and I wasn’t important and I wasn’t smart enough.”

She never filed an official complaint with the party but says that when she told the chief of staff she was owed apologies, that she “was told that would not be happening.”

“I was in a lot of meetings where someone made me cry just because they made me feel like my concerns weren’t real concerns and I wasn’t important and I wasn’t smart enough.”

Luff was offered mediation from a “20-year NDP insider,” which she likened to “proposing the Stanley Cup finals be refereed by a longtime member of one of the teams playing.”

In 2016, Luff attempted to bring forward a private member’s bill to introduce some form of rent control, which Notley had previously pledged to implement. Luff had no expectation her bill would pass in its original form, but wanted to at least have a committee discussion about various forms of rent control.

Luff says Notley told her she wasn’t sure that was a priority for Albertans but still instructed her to seek caucus support, which Luff did. Before the bill made it to the floor for its first reading, the central party apparatus had altered it to make it about housing affordability writ large, with “rent regulation” listed as one of five possible reforms.

In 2017, she attempted to make a non-partisan member’s statement about the toxic environment in the Legislature and the erosion of democracy. In a screenshot of proposed edits Luff provided to LiveWire Calgary, the party brass told her she had to make it a more positive statement and blame the UCP exclusively for the toxic climate. She wouldn’t change it and was barred from making a statement.

After spending two years attempting to raise her concerns privately and feeling as though she was constantly being shoved aside, she decided to make them public and abstain from sitting in the Legislature. On November 6, 2018, she was expelled from caucus, and sat the rest of her term as an independent, enjoying her newfound ability to directly represent her constituents. “If I have one regret, I wish I’d left earlier,” Luff says.

‘We were brand ambassadors’

Krista Li got involved in the Calgary-Bow NDP constituency association in advance of the 2019 election, working her way up to the association presidency in short order. “I felt that if I want to create a better province for my kids, I have to get involved at the grassroots level. I can’t just sit here and grumble,” she recalls.

But, through her involvement with the party, Li, who identifies with the left-wing of the NDP, noticed something was amiss. Rather than engaging in grassroots political organizing, she found the party’s communications to be more of a branding exercise for the party leader. “It’s ‘Team Rachel.’ It’s ‘Rachel Notley is fighting for you,’ not necessarily ‘the Alberta NDP is fighting for you,’” Li says.

Krista Li resigned as president of the Calgary-Bow NDP constituency association.


“We were brand ambassadors. It’s like working at the mall, instead of being involved in grassroots politics.” Later, Li likened the party to a cult and a multi-level marketing scheme.

“Every cult has a leadership that has an intense control or firm grip on followers or adherents. That’s no different in the Alberta NDP. That’s how the party works,” Li adds.

Li expressed discomfort with the requirement that each CA raise $50,000 for the party.

Hijal De Sarkar, a former NDP organizer in Edmonton who helped establish the party’s racialized caucus, told Ricochet that a fixation on fundraising creates a barrier to widening the party’s support with lower-income communities. The party should instead “be spending their time doing free or low-cost events that are designed to engage people.”

Despite her misgivings, Li applied to be the Calgary-Bow candidate for the 2023 election. After sending her nomination package to Garett Spelliscy, the party’s director of organization, in March 2021, she waited nearly a year for a vetting meeting with the party leadership.

She says the meeting lasted about 45 minutes and included questions about whether she had any “unusual” sexual practices, whether there were any incriminating photos of her, and whether she had a history of substance abuse.

Other candidates have described similar questions, including whether they’ve used dating sites or whether an ex-partner held a grudge against them. Some were asked to share private group chat conversations and revealing photos for review. Peigan told Native Calgarian podcast that she was asked about her drinking habits.

“It’s ‘Team Rachel.’ It’s ‘Rachel Notley is fighting for you,’ not necessarily ‘the Alberta NDP is fighting for you.’ “We were brand ambassadors. It’s like working at the mall, instead of being involved in grassroots politics.”

Li, whose husband is Chinese, was asked if she had any connections to the Chinese Communist Party.

The party records these interviews for their records, multiple sources confirmed, but prospective candidates don’t receive a copy.

“At no point did anybody ask me, ‘OK, Krista, what do you think you can bring to the table? How do you think you could be an asset to the NDP?’ Instead, they were asking me about what could be a liability for the NDP,” she recalled.

The NDP’s nomination process in Calgary, executive director Brandon Stevens told Alberta Views, is “partially grassroots” and partially political staffers “reaching out to people that have credentials that resonate with Calgarians.”

While waiting to hear back from party central, Li found out on Twitter that long-time progressive Calgary City Councillor Druh Farrell had been approved to seek the nomination.

Farrell told Ricochet it took eight months to process her nomination package. She said she didn’t find any of the questions asked during vetting needlessly invasive.

“I knew that as a candidate I would be under intense public scrutiny, so while the questions were personal, I considered them valid,” Farrell said.

Long-time Calgary City Councillor Druh Farrell.


The CA, which hadn’t even been aware that Farrell was interested in the nomination, was informed by the party in a midnight email on the Sunday of the February long weekend — the day before Farrell announced her candidacy.

Farrell said that having multiple candidates for NDP nominations in Calgary is “healthy but also fairly new for the NDP,” suggesting there might have been some growing pains. Farrell, who eventually ran unopposed for the nomination, said she “would have welcomed the competition” from Li.

The final straw for Li was a conversation she had with Spelliscy to express her concerns about the allegedly disparate treatment between her and Farrell’s candidacies — a phone call she describes as “explosive and abusive,” resulting in her hanging up on the director of organization and leaving the party.

Li ultimately voted for Farrell in the election, although she said it wasn’t an easy decision. Farrell narrowly lost to the UCP incumbent by 623 votes.

Rural campaigns written off

NDP efforts to tailor their 2023 platform to appeal to conservative voters contrasted sharply with the apparent lack of effort the party put into campaigning in the most historically conservative parts of the province. The focus of the party was almost exclusively on Calgary.

“Nobody really seemed to take an interest in us at all, because we had been written off from the very beginning.”

“Riley,” who ran in a rural riding in the most recent election, was spurred to get involved with the party by UCP education cuts during the pandemic, which they say “lit a fire under my ass.”

The party’s CA in the riding was dormant after the rout of the 2019 election, so Riley had to build it from the ground up while trying to set their campaign into motion with what they saw as little support from the party.

“Nobody really seemed to take an interest in us at all, because we had been written off from the very beginning,” they said.

Riley says they repeatedly expressed concerns to party central about the difficulty of convincing people to vote for a party that’s written them off based on where they live, betraying a lack of long-term strategic thinking. For this, they say they were accused of not being a “team player.”

“What matters is that we’re building trust in these ridings and that we’re showing rural voters that ‘Hey, you actually do have a valid option with a party that actually cares about you,’” Riley says. Instead, they believe the NDP treats rural supporters as a “cash cow” to raise money to spend in Calgary.

Another rural candidate, “Morgan,” outlined a similar experience.

“There was no strategy in rural Alberta,” Morgan recalls, saying they were “basically told from the beginning” that as an NDP candidate in a rural area, their responsibility was to get the UCP to pull resources away from their candidates in Calgary.

Both Riley and Morgan say Sandra Houston instructed rural candidates not to attend local forums. When candidates like Riley and Morgan objected, arguing this was a great opportunity to present their ideas to politically engaged voters, they say their concerns were dismissed.

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley

Out of touch with rural Alberta

The ferocious backlash to the NDP government’s efforts to extend basic labour protections to farm workers in 2016 with Bill 6, which former MLA Luff called a “communications disaster of epic proportions,” demonstrated how out of touch the party was with rural sensibilities. But rather than use that as a learning opportunity, the NDP appeared to then write off rural Alberta writ large.

De Sarkar, the former Edmonton organizer, says the Bill 6 fiasco also served to make the party “gun shy” about pursuing a bold progressive agenda.

Progressive policies can attract rural voters, Riley insists, but they need to be branded in terms that resonate with them. If the NDP listened to what party members on the ground are hearing, the party could figure out what messaging works and what doesn’t.

Many Indigenous communities are located within rural ridings, Riley notes. A clear commitment to Indigenous-oriented policies would go a long way in getting out an often-neglected component of the rural vote, they say. But, Riley adds, the NDP’s 2023 Indigenous issues platform was so vague it read as if it were an afterthought.

Morgan says the NDP has been bereft of policy ideas that would appeal specifically to rural communities. The party’s signature health-care promise of establishing family health teams, where different health-care practitioners are located under the same roof, was a great idea, but is of little use if people in rural areas need to drive an hour for a visit to the nearest location, says Morgan, who is a health-care professional.

“Unless you have spent time out here, it is very hard for people to understand what rural people are capable of,” Morgan says, pointing to the incredible generosity of community members towards those who are struggling. The reason this generosity is necessary “is because we’ve destroyed public social supports.” Unfortunately, Morgan says, there was no appetite on the party’s part to identify any systemic issues during its 2023 campaign.

“These people are the problem,” he says, referring to Rachel Notley’s inner circle. “They’re treating volunteers poorly. They’re not listening to us. They’re not respecting us. They’re not getting back to us on time. They’re not allowing us to try and organize and compete and contest these ridings.”

Wyatt Tanton, a 25-year-old former Camrose CA member who lost the party nomination in the rural riding an hour southeast of Edmonton, pointed out that rural Albertans aren’t born conservative. It’s just that the UCP is th