CALGARY — His father was once persona non grata in Alberta. But Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau believes he can sweep that aside and capitalize on presumptions about the province's political leanings.
Trudeau pointed to the provincial NDP majority victory earlier this year as evidence that Albertans are fed up with the status quo federally.
"For 10 years, Mr. Harper has pretended that he was the best friend Alberta could ever have in Ottawa," Trudeau said Wednesday in Calgary.
"But he has failed Alberta. He missed an entire boom cycle, didn't get any of the projects needed that we needed to build here and has quite frankly left Albertans aside in the kinds of growth and infrastructure support that we know growing cities like Calgary and Edmonton actually need.
"It is time Albertans know that they don't have to be taken for granted anymore."
Trudeau's pitch to Alberta is a gamble, albeit a calculated one following Premier Rachel Notley's commanding win in May. It also comes in a province where his father's implementation of a national energy program in the early 1980s salted the earth for Liberals for years.
Some of the wind was taken out of Trudeau's sails Wednesday when an Edmonton-area candidate was pulled after past comments were deemed "irreconcilable with the values of the Liberal Party of Canada."
But Liberals are quietly optimistic about two Calgary ridings — Calgary Centre, where the party came close to winning a 2012 by-election and Calgary Confederation, a newly created riding with no incumbent.
Trudeau said he's made "dozens" of visits to Alberta, laying the groundwork long before the provincial Conservatives were turfed from office.
"The Liberal party is serious about being a strong voice for Calgary in Ottawa ... and working very, very hard to make sure Calgarians know they don't have to be taken for granted anymore."
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has seen a change. In previous elections, Nenshi said he felt "a bit lonely" because Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was the only one who came to visit.
Nenshi had back-to-back meetings Wednesday with Trudeau and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair as the parties courted the traditional Conservative stronghold, where he admitted there are a handful of seats "at play."
While he said he wasn't endorsing any particular party, Nenshi had harsh words for the Conservative government on its continued lack of action on Syrian refugees and leader Stephen Harper's criticism of Alberta's new NDP government.
"It was a bit odd. I don't know how you blame what's going on in the economy on a government that's been in power barely four months after 44 years of a previous government and who took office well into the downturn in oil prices," Nenshi said.
"That said, we need to talk about the economy. We need to understand which of these party leaders makes sense for Alberta."
The leader who can fix transit issues, address housing and improve the quality of life for urban residents "gets to be Prime Minister," he said.
Earlier Wednesday, Trudeau made promises to beef up flood infrastructure in Calgary before preparing for a key leader's debate on the economy. Trudeau said his party would provide unspecified funding to prevent flooding and spend $1.5 billion on public transit in the city.
All three party leaders are in the city in advance of the debate on Thursday.
Trudeau is expected to spend much of the day preparing for the debate, which many say is a crucial one for him.
Trudeau has been on the defensive over his plan to run three years of deficits — even after figures show the government posted a $1.9 billion surplus in the 2014-15 fiscal year.
For the second day in a row, he declined to say when the Liberals would release a fully costed platform, instead pointing to a fiscal framework he says lays out the party's spending plans.
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