Rent control may be the first real wedge issue of the Alberta NDP leadership race

To date, the Alberta NDP 2024 leadership race has not been marked by much disagreement on policy. But on one issue some difference of opinion is emerging: rent control.

Janis Irwin, whose rent control bill may be the first wedge issue of the ANDP leadership race. Photo from Irwin's Facebook channel, by Court Ellingson

We previously covered the ANDP’s renewed interest in rent control in January in our report on Janis Irwin’s private member’s bill, the Housing Statues (Housing Security) Amendment Act, Bill 205. In that article I argued that while the ANDP had advocated for the policy in 2014 and earlier, the caucus has been generally hostile towards it since attaining power in 2015.

One senior caucus member who has spoken in favour of Bill 205 is Edmonton-Glenora MLA and leadership candidate Sarah Hoffman. Hoffman doubled down on that support on Monday, releasing a social media video calling on all leadership candidates to get behind Irwin’s proposal.

The strategy behind deploying such a wedge is obvious—Hoffman’s campaign is already presenting the idea that she is the standard-bearer of ‘traditional NDP values,’ and a distinction on rent control will support that, at least among those who don’t know the tradition of the Alberta NDP for the last ten years has been to quash rent control whenever it came up.

And Hoffman’s campaign, like all the others, surely desires the endorsement of Janis Irwin, the beloved standard-bearer of the party’s left wing.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fair for the Hoffman campaign to call the question.

We followed up with the other candidates to find out where they stand, and here’s what we heard back.

Rakhi Pancholi: A firm yes

Pancholi’s campaign responded to our inquiry right away, confirming that Pancholi is on board with 205.

“We are in a crisis and we didn’t get here overnight,” the Pancholi campaign told us.

“We need a temporary cap on rent increases to help people afford a place to live while we get to work building more homes.”

Kathleen Ganley: Would rather not say

Ganley’s campaign would not say yes or no.

“We are in a housing crisis. The UCP cut all funding to affordable housing five years ago and we see the results around us everyday. In addition, people are struggling more and more to cover their rent or mortgage and other costs. Many young people don't believe they will ever own a home.”

“The drivers and solutions to this problem are complex and I will have more to say in my housing platform,” said the Ganley campaign in their written reply.

Naheed Nenshi: Not saying (yet)

The Nenshi campaign—likely the rival that Hoffman is targeting most by deploying rent control as a wedge—told us that his position on rent control will be released soon, but they’re not ready yet.

“Naheed is on the road right now and he is the primary architect of our policies. We will have a lot more to say in the coming days and weeks on the housing crisis, and we regret not being able to be more specific right now.”

We will follow up with Nenshi’s people and hope to update this story soon with a clear yes or no from them.

Gil McGowan: No response (yet), but presumably yes

Gil McGowan has been a consistent advocate for Janis Irwin’s Bill 205, both before and during the leadership race, but did not respond to our request for an official statement. McGowan’s campaign has not really kicked off yet, probably due to his ill luck of contracting COVID right as the race started.

Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse: Another firm yes

Calahoo Stonehouse’s campaign told us that, like Hoffman and Pancholi, she supports rent control as part of a larger housing strategy.

“Alberta has long lacked protections for renters, and it's time to rectify that,” says the Calahoo Stonehouse campaign’s written statement.

“While a rent cap can offer immediate relief to struggling individuals and families, it's not a sustainable long-term solution to our housing crisis, but can be integrated as part of a larger response to bring affordability back to Alberta.”