Tuesday May 30, 2023
Edmonton (HOL) - The New Democratic Party's Sharif Haji clinched a historic victory on Tuesday in Alberta's provincial election, becoming the first Somali-Canadian elected to Alberta's Parliament. In a closely-watched contest, Haji outperformed fellow Somali-Canadian Sayid Ahmed, a Conservative candidate, winning the Edmonton-Decore seat with 52.5% of the votes.
An executive director at The Africa Centre, Haji has spent years serving communities and has been deeply involved in multiple initiatives in the province. His experience includes managing Alberta's first Provincial Affordable Housing Strategy and Alberta's Primary Health Care Strategy. He has also served on various boards and committees, including the Edmonton Multicultural Coalition, United Way, and the Centre for Race and Culture. Furthermore, Haji co-founded the Federation of African Canadians Economics (FACE), a group focused on improving access to capital for Black businesses in Canada.
Haji, who defeated incumbent MLA Chris Nielsen for the NDP nomination in June 2022, expressed his gratitude for the public's trust in him. "I'm deeply honoured by the confidence that the voters of Edmonton -Decore have shown in me and Alberta NDP," he said, after thanking his fellow contestants for their participation in the election. Haji emphasized his commitment to listening and responding to his constituents' concerns and concluded his statement with a call to action for a better future.
Despite concerns that the NDP's decision to parachute in Haji, who does not live in the riding, might backfire, his victory shows that voters embraced his campaign message. Ahmed, Haji's Conservative opponent, had argued that the NDP was engaging in identity politics by selecting a candidate to mirror the riding's high immigrant population. The public service unions, traditionally supportive of the NDP, were reportedly unhappy with Nielsen's removal. Yet Haji's victory suggests that any discontent failed to sway the election's outcome.
During the campaign, Ahmed, an economist and acting senior director in the health department, emphasized his love for Alberta and his belief in Alberta's advantage. Ahmed's campaign focused on addressing the cost of living, healthcare, crime, and education, and he accused the NDP of fearmongering on these issues.
Haji, however, countered with his record of community service and plans to address racial inequalities, which resonated with voters.
Last month, Haji announced his resignation as Executive Director of Africa Centre, a pan-African nonprofit in Canada. Under his leadership, the Africa Centre grew in reputation, recognition, and expansion, becoming one of the country's largest black-led, black-focused organizations.
The historic election of Haji demonstrates an ongoing shift in Alberta politics and a significant milestone for immigrant and Somali-Canadian representation in Canadian political life.