Would Tories or Greens benefit if McGuinty's words affect Calgary Centre?

John Geddes on the question of the hour

With the Calgary Centre by-election coming up Monday, the impact of Ottawa Liberal MP David McGuinty’s miserably maladroit “go back to Alberta” comment on his party’s chances there is the political question of the hour.

The Liberal candidate, Harvey Locke, has been running a strong campaign. But will Conservatives be able to use McGuinty’s choice of words to draw votes away from Locke and into the column of his Tory rival, Joan Crockatt?

Or is it more likely, as some are speculating, that any Calgary Centre voters thinking twice about supporting the Liberal will instead switch to Chris Turner, the Green candidate?

I called Lori Williams, a policy studies professor at Calgary’s Mount Royal University, for a quick reaction from close to the by-election action. (As it happens, Mount Royal hosted a by-election candidates’ debate today; Crockatt didn’t show, and not for the first time.)

Williams told me an Ontario MP’s far-away musings typically wouldn’t make much difference—except that this is a hard-fought three-way race, in which even a marginal shift in voter preferences might matter.

“The Conservatives are going to try to milk it for all it’s worth,” she said.  “If this does cost the Liberals votes, would those votes by more likely to go to Joan Crockatt or Chris Turner? I’d have to say Chris Turner.”

Her reasoning: “Turner has a lot in common with Locke. They’re both strong environmentalists.” As well, Williams doubts centrist voters—some of whom have swung from Conservative voting in the past to leaning Liberal this time—won’t see going Green as all that jarring a transition. “The Green party isn’t particularly left, it’s more centre.”

And Williams says Crockatt faces an uphill struggle in a last-ditch bid to coax back any voters impelled by McGuinty’s remark into abandoning Locke—if indeed he suffers as a result of McGuinty’s mistake, which remains a very big if.

That fact that Crockatt has drawn critical comment from Naheed Nenshi, Calgary’s popular mayor, has to hurt her with any voters who were already leaning toward other parties. “Mayor Nenshi won lots of support across the city,” Williams noted, “but one his strongest areas of support is the Calgary Centre territory.”