All Eyes On Calgary-Centre In Today's Byelections

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Of the three federal byelections Monday, only Calgary Centre has drawn the intense scrutiny usually seen in a leadership race or a general election. (Wikimedia/CP) | Wikimedia/CP

Byelections can be attention-getting because they're seen as bellwethers, or can be humdrum affairs with low voter turnout because they can't generate the excitement of electing a new government.

Of the three federal byelections Monday, only Calgary Centre has drawn the intense scrutiny usually seen in a leadership race or a general election.

Even though the riding may stay Conservative — as it has, in one form or another, for four decades — the race carries the drama of a possible upset in a province that the Conservatives own.

"We had the Joe Clark race in 2000 where he defeated the Canadian Alliance, but that was a conservative-conservative battle. This is a unified Conservative Party with the potential of losing its first election in Calgary since 1968," said Duane Bratt of Mount Royal University in Calgary.

The Conservative candidate is former Calgary Herald managing editor and broadcaster Joan Crockatt, whose identification with the Wildrose Party may have alienated the progressive conservatives in the Conservative Party.

Plus, Bratt thinks her "classic front-runner" campaign "out of the Conservative textbook" — which he said translates into "don't go to forums, don't speak to the media much, spend your time door knocking" — isn't helping her.

The former Conservative MP, Lee Richardson, who resigned to become Premier Alison Redford's chief of staff, was viewed as a moderate conservative. He won the riding with 58 per cent in 2011.

But Crockatt, several recent polls suggest, is running just five points ahead of Harvey Locke, a conservationist and the Liberal candidate. Some conservatives in the riding have thrown their support to Locke and have even fundraised for him.

The Green candidate, Chris Turner, an author and advocate for sustainability and clean technology, is polling a close third, while the NDP candidate, anti-poverty advocate Dan Meades, is trailing in fourth place.

3-way race

The Calgary Centre race looks like a three-way battle between the Conservatives, Liberals and Greens, with the NDP not a stong contender — even though the New Democrats hold the only non-Conservative federal seat in Alberta, Linda Duncan in Edmonton–Strathcona.

"Crockatt could very well win this with 36 per cent of the vote, and the only way you can do that is with a significant vote split on the other side," Bratt said. "Chris Turner would be the spoiler. The higher the Turner vote, the more likely it is for Crockatt to win."

One factor that could pull votes away from the Liberal candidate is the anti-Alberta comments made by Liberal MP David McGuinty and by federal Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau.

McGuinty said that Alberta MPs should "go back to" their home province if they weren't prepared to work for the national interest, rather than just Alberta's, when it comes to energy. McGuinty apologized and resigned his role as natural resources critic.

Trudeau said on a Quebec TV program two years ago that Canada wasn't doing well because "it's Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda." Trudeau has also apologized.

Bratt thinks the McGuinty comments are more harmful than Trudeau's remarks for the Liberals' Locke, because Trudeau has paid a lot of attention to the riding. Calgary was his first campaign stop after he launched his leadership bid, and he has visited a second time.

Victoria

The western-most of Monday's byelections is in the riding of Victoria, where one of the key issues is a proposed $738-million dollar sewage plant. Since there's no distracting question about who will be the next prime minister, federal byelections can become intensely local.

The sewage plant is a controversial issue since some residents fear higher taxes will ensue, and it's also a federal issue given the Harper government has pledged to help pay for it.

The byelection in Victoria was triggered by the resignation of NDP MP Denise Savoie, the deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, who left due to undisclosed health issues. Savoie's win in 2011, when she capture more than 50 per cent of the vote to the Conservative runner-up's 23 per cent, makes the riding a good bet for the NDP

The NDP candidate is environmental lawyer Murray Rankin, who is the only proponent of the proposed sewage treatment plant.

For years, Victoria has been dumping partially treated sewage into the Juan de Fuca Strait. It's been an embarrassment for decades, with some saying a treatment plant is needed and others arguing the turbulent waters of the strait safely wash the sewage away.

The Green Party candidate, University of Victoria professor Donald Galloway, is against the plant, favouring a better plan.

Conservative candidate Dale Gann, who is president of the Vancouver Island Technology Park, opposes the sewage plant.

Paul Summerville, running for the Liberals, has called the plant a million-dollar boondoggle and wants it put off until 2040. Summerville, who also teaches at the University of Victoria, once ran for the NDP in the Toronto riding of St. Paul's but switched to the Liberals after the 2006 election.

Polls suggest an NDP victory with the Greens coming in second.

Durham

The Ontario riding of Durham was held for eight years by the embattled Bev Oda, the former minister for the Canadian International Development Agency, who quit over a scandal about her expense accounts, including a famous $16 charge for a glass of orange juice. Despite her sudden resignation in July, the riding still seems a strong one for the Tories.

The Conservative candidate is retired Royal Canadian Air Force captain Erin O'Toole, who is the son of the provincial Conservative MPP for Durham, John O'Toole.

Grant Hume of Bowmanville, a retired businessman who spent 31 years with the Toronto Board of Trade, is the Liberal candidate.

The NDP candidate is former MPP and former mayor of Brock Larry O'Connor. The NDP surge during the 2011 election wasn't seen in Durham, with Oda winning the riding by almost 55 per cent and the NDP far behind at 21 percent.

Polls suggest the Conservatives are in line to win.

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