OTTAWA – During the last federal election, Alberta wasn’t exactly a favourite pit stop of the party leaders — much of the province appeared wrapped up in a bow for the Conservatives.
But with a number of incumbents stepping aside, new ridings created and existing boundaries redrawn, the opposition parties see new possibilities for the next federal campaign, expected in 2015. Multiple candidates are vying for the nomination in the most competitive ridings.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is stopping in downtown Edmonton on Wednesday to mark the nomination again of aboriginal activist and educator Lewis Cardinal as the candidate there.
Conservative MP Laurie Hawn, who beat Cardinal handily in 2011, is no longer running. New Democrats are hopeful changes to the boundaries and the departure of the incumbent will make a difference in Edmonton Centre.
“There’s no doubt about it, it’s a priority riding,” said the NDP’s Linda Duncan, the sole opposition MP to hold a seat in Alberta.
“Lewis came second last time, first time running did very well, and we think with the boundary changes the odds are even better for us.”
Conservative MP Peter Goldring, who represents the riding of Edmonton East, said Edmonton Centre could very well be in play with Hawn’s departure. He noted that Hawn did not win the first time he ran there in 2004 against then Liberal cabinet minister Anne McLellan.
“With the resurgence of Trudeau — if he keeps going up in the polls he could be a formidable presence,” said Goldring, who has not yet decided if or where in Edmonton he will run.
Duncan increased her plurality in her riding of Edmonton Strathcona in 2011, but the Liberals are eyeing it too. At least three female candidates are being vetted by the party for the right to run for the nomination.
A “Liberals for Linda” factor in the last election designed to shut out the Conservatives isn’t likely to materialize again.
Another new riding being red-circled by the Liberals and NDP alike is Edmonton-Griesbach. Six NDP members have signalled they’d like to run, along with two Conservatives.
“That one will probably be a bit more challenging. The closer we get to city centre, the more mixed the voting record is,” said Hawn. “So that one is still a good solid riding for us, but in any of these ridings you have to work at it.”
Kevin Feehan, co-chairman of the Liberal election campaign in Alberta, said he’s got much more work than he did the last time.
“We’re going to have three or four people seeking the nomination in every one of the greater Edmonton ridings, and the last time around we had most of them in place by acclamation,” said Feehan.
“I think there has been some sort of a seismic shift in the interest for running for the Liberals in Edmonton and the greater Edmonton area.”
Former Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff did not stop in Alberta once during the first two weeks of the 2011 campaign and then only intermittently in the last half. Late NDP Leader Jack Layton stopped in Edmonton, where Duncan’s chances were good.
Now Mulcair will have visited the province twice in the first three months of 2014 alone. Trudeau held a $500-per-ticket fundraiser in Calgary in January, and even spoke to a gathering in small Okotoks, AB.
The leaders are hoping to increase their standings in byelections this year in the ridings of Macleod and Fort McMurray-Athabasca.
The opposition prospects seem a bit more muted in the Calgary area, but the Liberals are hoping to make gains nonetheless. Calgary Centre is currently held by Conservative Joan Crockatt, but no Conservative has yet been nominated for the new downtown riding of Calgary Confederation.
Crockatt said the fact Conservative nominations are being hotly contested is a sign that Stephen Harper and the party’s brand is still strong.
“Sure the other parties are going to try to make inroads in Calgary, they always do, because it’s seen as one of the crucibles of the economy,” said Crockatt.
“But from the signs of things so far, I think conservativism is still very strong.”