CALGARY — Alberta may no longer be the political freespot on the bingo card during this federal election campaign as the provincial win by the NDP in May is likely to garner the province an unwarranted amount of attention from federal leaders.
The overpowering Conservative strength in Alberta has made it unfertile ground for anyone else. A Liberal hasn’t be elected in the province federally since 1968.
During the last federal election campaign, Prime Minister Stephen Harper didn’t set foot in his hometown of Calgary until election night.
“Alberta was nowhere land in terms of the election. Why bother right? The margin of victory for the Tories was so colossal that it wasn’t worth a leader showing up,” said David Taras, a political scientist at Calgary’s Mount Royal University.
“Why be in a battlefield where you already know the winner? But I think that’s changed. There’s so much more in this election that’s open, that’s volatile.”
Taras said NDP strength in Edmonton is strong enough there are three or four ridings that could be in play and at least two seats in the Conservative homeland of Calgary that could even be at risk.
There was a flurry of federal announcements in Calgary in the weeks leading up to the election call including more than $2 billion for light rail transit expansion and a long-awaited ring road around the city.
But senior cabinet ministers deny anything is amiss.
Defence Minister Jason Kenney, who spent the majority of his time campaigning outside of his riding in Ontario and B.C. last election, doesn’t intend to do anything differently this time around.
“I’ll be helping as well at a national level. I have national responsibilities as well but will do what I can to retain contact with my voters,” said Kenney.
“I was pleased in the last election to receive 76 per cent of the vote … so I think the fact I was working in other areas was considered a plus and not a negative by my own constituents.”
Kenney said Alberta voters realize Harper is a national leader and can’t spend the campaign at home.
“No party leader spends a lot of time in their own constituency during a federal election because they’ve got to represent the whole country. Mr. Harper’s constituents get to see him on television every single day so they know what he’s up to, what he’s talking about,” Kenney said.
Western Diversification Minister Michelle Rempel has spent months door knocking in her Calgary riding. She doesn’t believe the win by NDP Premier Rachel Notley will have any impact with Alberta voters on Oct. 19.
“I think that the PC government put forward a budget that raised taxes and people don’t vote for Conservatives that raise taxes,’ she said.
“Contrast that with our government’s promise to Albertans where we have reduced the overall federal tax burden to its lowest level in 50 years. I think there’s a very stark contrast there.”
Taras expects Edmonton will receive the lion’s share of the attention but notes the Liberals have ‘thrown everything but the kitchen sink” into Calgary Centre, currently held by Joan Crockatt.
“Certainly Edmonton will be a battleground. It’s open season,” Taras said.
“Calgary, will be more of a stopover on the way to the B.C. battlegrounds but I expect all of the leaders to be here.”