10/15/2015 11:19 EDT

Calgary Confederation On Verge Of Making Political History -- Or Is It?

“I want a change. But I can’t vote for the other two guys."

CALGARY — Liberal candidate Matt Grant can't stop smiling. He smiles as he stands on the doorstep writing "Happy Thanksgiving, Sorry I missed you" notes on his flyers. He smiles as he tries unsuccessfully to convince Liberal supporters to vote on the last day of advance polls. He smiles as he watches his crowd of volunteers — his team says there are 400 — gear up for the last week of door knocking.

Grant, a mergers and acquisition and corporate finance lawyer, may have a lot of reasons to smile. The 32-year-old Liberal candidate could be on the verge of making political history.

The federal Liberals haven't elected a candidate from Calgary since 1968. The last Albertan to win a seat for the Grits was former justice minister Anne McLellan, in what is typically seen as more progressive Edmonton. But this time, polls suggest the Liberals could pick up three seats here on Oct. 19.

Things are changing in Alberta, Grant told The Huffington Post Canada, and he believes he stands a really good chance to win. Maybe not as strong a chance as in Calgary Centre or Calgary Skyview, where well-known former Liberal MLAs Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang are running, Grant said. But still, a very good chance.

Matt Grant, the Liberal candidate in Calgary Confederation, meets voters in August. (Photo: Sarah Elder-Chamanara)

People are tired of being taken for granted, he said, during an interview Monday. "This is a progressive riding. This is a riding that didn't necessarily see its voters' values and principles reflected in its federal leadership."

There are a lot of young professionals, professors, doctors, lawyers living in Calgary Confederation who are more urban in outlook and who want to see federal representation that resembles Calgary's popular mayor, Naheed Nenshi, or the new Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley, he said.

In the provincial election last spring, these constituents chose two NDP MLAs and re-elected Liberal David Swann.

Calgary Confederation is located to the north of Calgary Centre, across the Bow River. There are several medical centres: the Foothills hospital and the Alberta Children's Hospital; and three post-secondary institutions: the Alberta College of Art and Design, SAIT Polytechnic, and the University of Calgary. It is a new riding with no incumbent.

The MP for what used to be called Calgary Centre-North, Conservative Michelle Rempel, chose to run in the safer seat of Calgary Nose Hill. In 2011, Rempel received more than 56 per cent of the votes cast. Former Conservative cabinet minister and Alberta premier Jim Prentice held the federal seat here from 2004 to 2010.

Grant is facing off against Tory Len Webber, a longtime Progressive Conservative MLA for Calgary Foothills who resigned from Alison Redford's caucus in 2014 amid the premier's spending scandal, and New Democrat Kirk Heuser, a former CBC television journalist and communications lead for the Pembina Institute.

Desire for change

Two years ago, long before his opponents had been named candidates, Grant started knocking on doors. It appears to have paid off. When HuffPost followed him on a recent door-knock session, several residents in the Bridgeland neighbourhood told him they were impressed by how hard he'd worked and planned to vote for him because of it.

"We've hit 115,000 doors, and I can tell you people really do want change," Grant said.

The desire for change is palpable at the doors.

After 10 years of Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, Michael Ghaoui, a new Canadian originally from Lebanon, told HuffPost it is "enough."

Ghaoui worries about the cost of raising a family. He works in sales and marketing, his wife works for a petroleum company, and they have an eight-month-old daughter. Daycare can cost $1,800 a month, Ghaoui said, making it impossible for both parents to stay in the job market. Initially, he was attracted to the NDP's $15-a-day child-care plan, but after NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair came out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership he started looking more seriously at the Liberals.

"It's quite a good plan but you don't vote based on one positive, you have to look at the whole picture," Ghaoui said. "We need trade."

He's not "100 per cent" sold on the Liberals but he thinks they are the best choice right now. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's benefit cheques for families will help, and he likes some of the party's other promises. Plus, he said, the Liberals have been in power before whereas the NDP federally has not.

"Justin Trudeau has to prove himself," Ghaoui added. "We'll give him four years and see whether he is going to do it or not."

Grant said a lot of people think change is possible, and the provincial NDP win helped bring that message home. But this time, his team is making the pitch that a vote for change is a vote for Justin Trudeau.

"We are trying to build a bigger coalition… and invite people who may have voted or supported the NDP in the past — the same goes for the Greens quite frankly — and also progressive Conservatives who don't feel like they have a home right now."

Grant is handing out flyers that show the Liberals in a tight two-way contest with the Tories in the riding. The poll by Mainstreet of 679 residents of Calgary Confederation suggested Grant had 38 per cent of support among decided voters, with Webber at 37 per cent and Heuser, the NDP candidate, at 19 per cent. The survey was conducted on Sept. 14 via phone, and had a margin of error of +/- 3.37 per cent, 19 out of 20.

That mail drop has incensed Heuser.

The day after the poll came out, the Liberals had literature on the doorstep, he said. "By the time, election day comes around. It is more than a month old," said Heuser.

He said Grant's leaflet didn't include "important information" that voters should have known about, such as the number of undecided, the sample size, the margin of error and the questions asked.

"Hey, if I had the money and if I had the resources that he has to put into one bit of frivolous information ... I'm not sure I wouldn't do the same thing," Heuser told HuffPost, referring to Grant’s successful fundraising and his connections to former Calgary mayor Al Duerr who is his father-in-law. "But the fact of the matter is, it is not an accurate reflection."

Heuser is upset polling aggregators and strategic voting groups such as LeadNow's Vote Together are using the poll to encourage residents to vote Liberal to defeat Harper, and suggesting the NDP doesn't stand a chance.

"And then you have the media outlets, that are supposedly doing a profile of all the candidates in the riding talking about the poll," he said. "It is a little bit frustrating. The majority of Canadians want to get rid of Stephen Harper and they want actual change and we are the only party that can do both."

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair makes a campaign stop in Calgary on Sept. 15, 2015, with Calgary Confederation candidate Kirk Heuser on his right in the orange tie. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The Liberals, Heuser argued, are no longer progressive. They are "Harper-light Liberals," he said.

"They lost their progressive card when they signed on to Bill C-51" and the 'Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act,' and refused to increase corporate tax cuts, he added.

"I'm just asking people to look at policy, over polls ...You don't know until you get out and vote. Anybody can win."

At the door, Heuser's message seemed to fall flat.

With HuffPost trailing behind him, Heuser knocked on a door with two NDP signs on the front lawn and asked the resident if he could count on his support.

"Well, I have to be honest with you," Cristian Ureta began to say. Despite the Tom Mulcair sign, he said he's thinking of voting Liberal.

Heuser pointed to his own literature that suggests the NDP needs only 35 seats to beat Harper, while the Liberals need more than 100 to form a minority government, based on the 2011 electoral results.

"Mathematically, we are in the best position to defeat Stephen Harper," he said.

But the pitch didn't seem to work.

"Vote your convictions," Heuser then urged.

Ureta recently moved his young family from Vancouver to Calgary. With the cost of living increasing, Calgary made financial sense since, with family nearby, child care costs wouldn't be a concern. Ureta dislikes Harper's foreign policy and he worries what the Conservatives might do to public health care.

"I need my vote to count. I'm trying to make it count," he told HuffPost after Heuser had left. An NDP vote would just land in the wind, he said. It's an emotional decision, Ureta confessed. "I've never voted anything but NDP."

Len Webber announced at a January 2014 news conference that he would be seeking the federal Conservative nomination in the Calgary Confederation. (Bill Graveland/Canadian Press)

Conservative candidate Len Webber worries about these strategic voters. If the NDP — or the "NDs" as he calls them — bleed support to the Liberals, it will make Grant a more formidable opponent. But, he said, he remains optimistic blue Liberals might swing to his side.

"I've stopped trying to predict how people think. I just preach to them what the Conservative party does for Canada and how important it is for them to lead this country especially during these fragile economic times right now," he said in an interview from his campaign office.

At the door, people say they want change, Webber added, but when he asks them why, they rarely have an answer. They say, "Maybe, just a different face."

"To me that doesn't make sense! Tell me why? Why do you need change or why do you want change? They can't seem to express that."

So Webber, in his words, "enlightens them on the ramification of a Liberal or NDP government." He asks residents what they do for a living, and if they say, geologist, for example, Webber talks about the effects of a corporate tax increase and the job losses that would ensue.

"I run into a lot of people who have been laid off in the oilpatch and they tend to be the ones that are more supportive of the Conservative party because we are about balanced budgets and low taxes and ensuring a strong energy industry at a time when we are down in the dumps right now with this fiscal economy and the price of oil is really hurting us right now," he said.

"If we bring a government in who are talking about increasing taxes, increasing corporate taxes, increasing carbon taxes that is just going to bring further job cuts in this industry and that's not the solution. We need to be fiscally conservative at this fragile economic time right now."

Quit caucus in response to constituents

Webber is soft-spoken. He's an empty nester, his wife died from breast cancer and his daughters have moved out. He told HuffPost he wants to go to Ottawa to push legislation that would encourage and facilitate organ donations across provincial boundaries and help more patients waiting for transplants. It's a cause dear to his heart, after meeting an Edmonton woman who was suffering from liver failure who asked him for help. He spearheaded provincial legislation as an Independent MLA and wants to do the same nationally.

In 2014, Webber quit then-premier Alison Redford's caucus. He told the media Redford was "not a nice lady," that she bullied and intimidated colleagues and he couldn't work with her anymore. His constituents had been bothered by her spending controversy for months, he said, and he hoped his decision to step out of caucus showed them he was responsive to their concerns.

Webber knows the polls have him neck and neck with Grant.

While in his campaign office, a supporter walked in asking for a sign. His neighbour has a Grant sign and so he wanted one to counter it. "There are so many Liberal signs," he said. "Who would vote for them?"

Webber is handing out Conservative Party of Canada flyers that quote Justin Trudeau from 2010 that say: "Canada isn't doing well right now because it's Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda. It doesn't work.."

During a recent all-candidate debate, Webber told the crowd both the Liberals and the NDP would get rid of income splitting for seniors — something both parties promised they won't do.

During that debate and in our interview, Webber suggested only he had the experience — as an MLA from 2004 to 2014 and a cabinet minister in two different portfolios — to do the job.

"I think I can make an impact in Ottawa. I've got the experience … I know all about bills and motions, and what to do, and where to go, and how to work committees," he told HuffPost. "I will land in Ottawa with both feet running."

Grant may not have experience but he thinks his challenger represents an outdated mode of thinking. A recent news story that noted Webber had been given the stamp of approval by the anti-abortion group Campaign For Life caused a bit of an uproar in the riding.

"There are an awful lot of people in this riding, in this province, that value women's reproductive rights and want a representative that's going to fight for those," Grant told HuffPost. "It just goes back to this idea that the Conservatives are not the party for Calgary Confederation and Len is a pretty old-school Conservative among a party that isn't reflective of the values of this riding."

'I got labelled'

Webber was identified as "pro-life" by Campaign For Life and referred to as someone who had promised to "strive to introduce and pass laws to protect unborn children from the time of conception."

The Tory candidate told HuffPost this was "absolutely not" an issue he planned to bring to Ottawa and he insisted he had never filled out the group's questionnaire. "That is not a strong desire of mine at all, that issue, I can't even say the word really but abortion is the issue."

Webber said he was called by the group a year-and-a-half ago. "All I said was if it was my daughter who was contemplating an abortion I would be upset about it, I would rather her have the baby and give it up for adoption. That's all. I got labelled." Now, he wishes he had said the issue was one between a woman and her doctor.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, centre, arrives to a morning event with local candidates Kent Hehr, left, and Matt Grant, right, in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Sept, 16, 2015. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

With four days to go, Grant is hoping he can hop on a bit of the Liberal momentum suggested by national polls.

"We've always said it would be nice to catch a wave and the bigger the wave the better, but we always wanted to build the best vote possible to catch that wave," he told HuffPost. "We're feeling very, very optimistic."

But perhaps, he shouldn't feel too optimistic. This is Calgary after all.

Markus Right, a cab driver who is originally from Jamaica but has lived in Canada since 1975 and calls Calgary Confederation home, confided that he voted NDP provincially. He wants to replace Harper but he just can't bring himself to do it.

"[Trudeau] he doesn't know anything. What kind of degree he has? Drama? He knows nothing about economics. What are you doing, man? Nah, nah, nah, nah. He doesn't know nothing. The backroom guys are going to lead the country," he told HuffPost. "He's just not ready yet. He needs four more years, maybe six."

"This other guy, [Tom Mulcair] he's just too drastic," Right added.

"I want a change. But I can't vote for the other two guys. So I'm going with the devil I know."


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