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Can The NDP And Liberals Make Gains In Conservative Alberta?

Alberta is the base of the Conservative Party of Canada, and the province is as blue as they come. A recent poll suggests that the upcoming by-election in Calgary-Centre will not change things. So what chances do the Liberals and New Democrats have of adding a little red and orange to the Albertan landscape?

The province will be getting six more electoral districts by the time Canadians next head to the polls, and the new boundaries do open up some opportunities for the New Democrats. Edmonton in particular is more of a level playing field, with the NDP having a shot at increasing their toehold from one seat (Linda Duncan’s in Edmonton-Strathcona) to two or three.

But the New Democrats have a big challenge ahead of them. While Thomas Mulcair has increased the party’s support throughout the country, he still remains unpopular in Alberta. A recent survey by Abacus Data found that only 12 per cent of Albertans had a very or somewhat favourable impression of the NDP leader. By contrast, Mulcair scored 30 per cent in neighbouring British Columbia and 52 per cent in Quebec.

The provincial New Democrats under Brian Mason did make some gains in the last election, increasing their representation from two to four seats in the legislature. They still only captured 10 per cent of the vote, but those extra seats mean the NDP will have an easier time putting together an organization come 2015.

Nevertheless, the NDP has a long way to go before they will have more than an outside shot at another seat or two in the province. The polls indicate that the New Democrats are about where they were on election night in 2011, and the party is focusing more on holding on to their seats in Quebec and making gains in British Columbia and Ontario. But any extra riding that votes for the NDP in Alberta will be one less seat for the Conservatives, and if the next election is as close as the polls are right now those seats could make a big difference.

The Liberals have an even greater distance to travel before they can become a factor in Alberta politics. The party has been sinking in the West at both the provincial and federal levels in recent elections, and has only one MP between Vancouver and Winnipeg.

But despite their poor showing in the last provincial election, the Liberals did show some resilience. The party dropped more than 16 points since the 2008 election but managed to hold on to five of the eight seats in Edmonton and Calgary that they had when the election began. Three of them took 40 per cent or more of the vote.

The Liberal leadership race could play a big role in the party’s fortunes in Alberta, as well as in Canada as a whole. Justin Trudeau, who is likely to run (and likely to win if he does), has a polarizing name in the province but polls have suggested he would give the party a boost. That bump is not so pronounced in Alberta, but it might put the party ahead of the NDP. A westerner like Ralph Goodale (a long shot to win, if he even runs) could do better, though if the next leader of the party falls flat the New Democrats could take advantage.

Alberta is not a federal battleground, and is unlikely to become one in 2015. But the New Democrats and Liberals do have a shot at putting pressure on the Tories in more than a few ridings.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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