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.

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