If electoral history is any judge, the answer to that question is “no.” Since 1966, Calgary Centre has gone Progressive Conservative to Reform to Canadian Alliance to Progressive Conservative to Conservative. All-but-one of the province’s ridings are held by Conservatives. All of the neighbouring Calgary ridings are held by Conservatives. And it’s been 70 years since any of the Calgary ridings elected anyone other than a Conservatives (Liberal George Henry Ross in Calgary West and Liberal Manley Justin Edwards in Calgary West, both elected in 1940).*
Only once has a New Democrat finished better than third in Calgary Centre. The NDP candidate in 2011 received 7,314 votes—an all-time record for a New Democrat there, but 21,000 votes short of Lee Richardson.
Nonetheless, Nathan Cullen was in Calgary Centre Wednesday night for an “interactive workshop” about “uniting progressives.” (“This by-election can be this perfect vehicle to hold the Prime Minister accountable for his lack of respect towards hard-working Canadians and the democratic process itself.”) He was happy to report over the phone yesterday afternoon that the event drew 200 people, including Liberal, Green and Progressive Conservative supporters.
It’s going to be a tough slog, obviously, but you have a meeting before the writ’s even called and 200 folks show up, talking about door-knocking and social media and trying to make this election count, it’s a good start anyway … it’s the Prime Minister’s backyard, right? It’s also traditionally tough terrain for us, so we’re open-eyed about it, we’re not deluding ourselves, but if there’s a feeling on the ground and you’re running with canvassers and that kind of momentum, it’s going to be the folks in the riding that determine that. I get the sense, just from the meeting last night, that people from all around Calgary want to come in on this. I think sometimes by-elections sort of sleepily go along and they’re not a big deal, but maybe just with Bill C-38 and some of the things that the Prime Minister’s getting in trouble for—I mean, the Economist taking shots at you, it’s got to hurt. There just seems to be a mood in the air that’s different than other by-elections that I’ve been to. And that’s not to say that it makes it necessarily that much easier, but it just gives you a real energy. And that’s critical. I mean, when we won Outremont, the energy was palpable. It’s not there yet, obviously, but, boy, it was a good feeling last night … There’s obviously something in the air and who taps into is going to benefit from it for sure.
The NDP has shown an ability to surprise (Outremont in 2007, Edmonton-Strathcona in 2008, Quebec in 2011), but Calgary Centre would probably have to be considered a leap above and beyond any recent precedent. The more realistic question might be how well the New Democrats would have to do in Calgary Centre for it to be considered a “win”—Second place? Within 10 points? Within 20 points?— in the post-game analysis.
*Liberals won in Calgary South in 1963 and 1968, but that riding was redistributed in 1987 between three other ridings.