A message in Calgary?

No one beyond downtown Calgary was supposed to pay any attention to Monday’s federal byelection in that city.

No one beyond downtown Calgary was supposed to pay any attention to Monday’s federal byelection in that city.

The real news in Calgary Centre was supposed to be the winner of the Conservative nomination race because, if history is a guide, that nomination was a ticket to Ottawa.

Maybe that will come to pass Monday and we can all go back to bed.

Maybe some polls with tiny sample sizes are creating attention where none is warranted and surely those who have been burned by Alberta polls in the recent past should not fly too close to this flame again.

Maybe this will all turn out to be a mirage and Conservative Joan Crockatt will take her place on the party backbench to vote as told and read the talking points provided for her.

But it sure looks like something is happening in Calgary that is going to have reverberations in the capital, not just next week, but in the next federal election.

Calgary, which gave us Naheed Nenshi and was key in giving us Premier Alison Redford, is now giving us a compelling byelection.

Crockatt, a right-wing Conservative seeking to keep a seat that borders on Stephen Harper’s, appears to be in a dogfight with Liberal Harvey Locke and Green Party candidate Chris Turner.

The fact she is in such a battle speaks more to the hangover from last spring’s provincial election than sudden discontent with Harper and his Conservatives in Calgary.

Crockatt, a journalist and political commentator, backed the Wildrose Party in that campaign, ultimately won by Redford, and the schism among Alberta conservatives is playing out on a national stage. If Redford backers stay home on Monday, this split could be fatal to Crockatt.

But suddenly every other party has a huge stake in this race.

The importance of a Liberal victory, in the midst of a leadership race, would be hard to overstate and Justin Trudeau was in Calgary this week to back Locke, a 53-year-old lawyer, author and well-known environmentalist.

He has run provincially in Alberta and is the former party president in the province.

The fact that the Green Party is a player in Calgary also promises to shake up the federal scene and is a testament to the candidacy of Turner, a 39-year-old author who has been shortlisted for a Governor-General’s Literary Award.

NDP candidate Dan Meades is running behind.

Hanging heavy over Calgary Centre is a potential split of the progressive vote, allowing a Conservative win.

A movement led by pollster Brian Singh, 1 Calgary Centre, is seeking to overcome a vote split on the centre-left by conducting a pre-election poll to determine which of the three opponents to Crockatt has the best chance of beating the Conservative.

But none of the candidates is expected to fold their tent based on a novelty poll.

“If Crockatt wins and it is because of vote splits, then there is another shot across the bow to the opposition, that there has to be unity or the Conservatives always win,” says David Taras of Calgary’s Mount Royal University and a longtime Alberta-based political analyst.

“Here is the case study.”

It should lead to “some talks, somewhere” to unite progressives, Taras says, but the NDP has already rejected such discussions and no one is carrying a unity banner in the ongoing Liberal leadership race.

This is a riding that has sent some heavy hitters to Ottawa — the late Harvie Andre, a Mulroney-era cabinet minister who often won the riding with more than 60 per cent of the vote, former prime minister and external affairs minister Joe Clark, and Conservative Lee Richardson, who racked up 58 per cent of the vote in 2011, before departing last spring for a job with Redford, creating this vacancy.

But a Liberal?

It is a byelection. You can vote for change without changing the government.

Voter turnout is expected to be low.

But this is now a riding, Taras says, that resembles other parts of Canada more than it does other parts of Alberta.

Maybe it all falls into place as it usually does there on Monday, but maybe it has already provided enough twists and turns that regardless of the victor, it has shown us that this is not the city, nor the province, we always thought it was.

It is worth watching late Monday.

Tim Harper is a syndicated Toronto Star national affairs writer. He can be reached at tharper@thestar.ca.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta identifies 1,183 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday

50.5% of all active cases are variants of concern

Whistle Stop Cafe owner Christopher Scott and his sister Melodie pose for a photo at the Mirror restaurant. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Alberta Health Services delivers ‘closure order’ to Mirror restaurant

Alberta Health Services says it has delivered a closure order to a… Continue reading

Flags bearers hold the Canadian flag high during the Flags of Remembrance ceremony in Sylvan Lake in this October file photo. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
New project to pay tribute to Canadians killed in Afghanistan

Flags of Remembrance scheduled for Sept. 11

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
Security and police block the entrance to GraceLife Church as a fence goes up around it near Edmonton on Wednesday April 7, 2021. The Alberta government has closed down and fenced off a church that has been charged with refusing to follow COVID-19 health rules. Alberta Health Services, in a statement, says GraceLife church will remain closed until it shows it will comply with public-health measures meant to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Hundreds gather to support Alberta church shut down for ignoring COVID-19 orders

SPRUCE GROVE, Alta. — Hundreds of people are gathered outside an Alberta… Continue reading

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces march during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Friday, July 8, 2016. The Canadian Armed Forces is developing contingency plans to keep COVID-19 from affecting its ability to defend the country and continue its missions overseas amid concerns potential adversaries could try to take advantage of the crisis. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Canadian special forces supported major Iraqi military assault on ISIL last month

OTTAWA — Some Canadian soldiers supported a major military offensive last month… Continue reading

A woman pays her repects at a roadblock in Portapique, N.S. on Wednesday, April 22, 2020. The joint public inquiry in response to the April mass shooting in Nova Scotia has announced a mandate that includes a probe of the RCMP response as well as the role of gender-based violence in the tragedy. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Creating permanent memorial to Nova Scotia mass shooting victims a delicate task

PORTAPIQUE, N.S. — Creating a memorial for those killed in Nova Scotia’s… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Erin O’Toole says ‘I didn’t hide who I was’ running for Conservative leader

OTTAWA — Erin O’Toole assured Conservative supporters that he never hid who… Continue reading

Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau, second from left, celebrates his goal with teammates, from left to right, Matthew Tkachuk, Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson, of Sweden, during second period NHL hockey action against the Edmonton Oilers, in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal
Jacob Markstrom earns shutout as Flames blank Oilers 5-0 in Battle of Alberta

CALGARY — It took Sean Monahan breaking out of his goal-scoring slump… Continue reading

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia's opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan's government, but they say Monday's throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province's economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

VICTORIA — British Columbia’s opposition parties acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented… Continue reading

A grizzly bear walks on a treadmill as Dr. Charles Robbins, right, offers treats as rewards at Washington State University's Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center in this undated handout photo. Grizzly bears seem to favour gently sloping or flat trails like those commonly used by people, which can affect land management practices in wild areas, says an expert who has written a paper on their travel patterns. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Anthony Carnahan *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Grizzly bears prefer walking on gentle slopes at a leisurely pace like humans: study

VANCOUVER — Grizzly bears seem to favour gently sloping or flat trails… Continue reading

FILE - In this July 27, 2020, file photo, nurse Kathe Olmstead prepares a shot that is part of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., in Binghamton, N.Y. Moderna said Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, its COVID-19 shot provides strong protection against the coronavirus that's surging in the U.S. and around the world. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)
The COVID-19 wasteland: searching for clues to the pandemic in the sewers

OTTAWA — When Ottawa Public Health officials are trying to decide whether… Continue reading

Most Read