Canada’s ruling Conservative Party faces a possible upset in Calgary, the political home of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in one of three special elections being held today to fill vacancies in the House of Commons.
Voting takes place in the electoral district of Calgary Centre -- where downtown condos sit in the shadows of office towers housing oil and gas companies -- with opinion polls showing Harper’s Conservative Party candidate, Joan Crockatt, holding a narrow lead over Liberal and Green Party contenders.
The Conservatives under Harper won their first majority mandate last year after running minority governments since 2006, winning every district in Calgary and all but one in the province of Alberta. A Liberal win in Calgary would be that party’s first since 1968, according to records kept by the House of Commons.
A poll of 376 people by Forum Research conducted Nov. 12 showed 32 percent support for Crockett, compared with 30 percent for Harvey Locke of the Liberals and 23 percent for the Green’s Chris Turner. The poll has a margin of error of 5 percentage points. Crockatt’s support has fallen from 44 percent since the summer, according to Forum Research.
The special election is being held to replace Conservative Lee Richardson, who resigned to work for Alberta Premier Alison Redford. Richardson took 58 percent of the vote in the 2011 election, while the Liberal candidate was a distant second with 18 percent.
A loss would be a symbolic blow for Harper, said James Lightbody, chairman of the political science department at the University of Alberta. “Harper is from Calgary,” he said by telephone. “It would be a serious expression of disloyalty to elect anyone other than a Conservative in a Calgary riding.”
While the Conservatives swept rural districts in Alberta and in many other provinces, Calgary Centre is one of the most urban seats in the province, said Keith Brownsey, associate professor in the political science department at Mount Royal University in Calgary. Many of its voters supported Naheed Nenshi, he said, who was elected in 2010 as Canada’s first Muslim mayor.
“Calgarians have a unique opportunity to let the federal government know what they think in the very near future,” Nenshi, who is not aligned with any political party, wrote on the city’s website on Nov. 16. “Since voters know the government will not change, they often vote on issues over party or to send a message to the government of the day.”
National issues don’t appear to be key to the Calgary vote. Green candidate Turner has campaigned on the need for a national transit strategy to help the city deal with traffic congestion. In contrast, Crockatt’s campaign website features less-local issues such agriculture and exports.
While the Green Party has said that Harper should reject the $15.1 billion bid by Beijing-based Cnooc Ltd. for Calgary-based oil and gas producer Nexen Inc., the Liberal Party has been supportive of the deal, while saying the Conservatives haven’t made foreign-investment rules clear.
“The federal government has completely failed in making the case for foreign investment,” said Liberal Justin Trudeau at Locke’s campaign office on Nov. 20. “We need foreign investment to survive and thrive as a country.”
Trudeau, son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, is a candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Party. Other opinion polls have shown the Liberals’ popularity would increase sharply with Trudeau as leader.
“There is certainly the possibility of a surprise,” with today’s vote, said Lightbody. “My instinct would say the Conservatives will win it, but if a protest vote is going to materialize it would probably be for the Greens.”
Alberta was Canada’s third largest economy in 2011, according to 2011 Statistics Canada. It grew 5.1 percent last year, almost twice as fast as the national rate, with mining and oil and gas extraction directly accounting for about 19 percent of output. Calgary’s jobless rate was 4.7 percent in October, Statistics Canada reported earlier this month, compared with 7.4 percent nationally.
The two other elections are being held in Victoria, British Columbia, and the constituency of Durham, in Ontario. The New Democratic Party’s Denise Savoie won the Victoria seat with 51 percent of the vote in 2011, and has since resigned for health reasons. The Conservative victor in Durham, former Development Minister Bev Oda, had 55 percent support last year, and resigned after facing criticism for her travel expenses.
While an opposition win in Calgary would strike a symbolic blow, it would do little to change the balance of power in the House of Commons. Before the elections, there were 163 Conservatives in the 308-seat legislature, 100 NDP, 35 Liberals, four Bloc Quebecois, one Green and 2 independents.