OKOTOKS — John Barlow was literally the odd man out in the battle for the Conservative nomination in the federal riding of Macleod that was fuelled by a debate over gun rights and the RCMP‘s seizure of firearms from evacuated homes in High River during Alberta’s floods last June.
But Saturday night he defeated three other candidates to earn the right to carry the Conservative banner in the sprawling, rural riding that stretches from south of Calgary down to the foothills of southwestern Alberta, including the town of High River.
The RCMP took the guns and stored them as officers searched homes in High River’s flood zone for stranded people, pets and anything that might pose a threat to safety.
The move was criticized by the Prime Minister’s Office and in July the head of the RCMP asked the Public Complaints Commission to look into the matter, saying he and a lot of other Canadians had questions about the force’s actions. A report is expected soon.
The National Firearms Association endorsed nomination candidates Melissa Mathieson, Phil Rowland and Scott Wagner for their position on the seizures. All three were critical of the gun seizures, and supported the possibility of a public inquiry.
The one candidate the gun group didn’t back was Barlow, a 42-year-old newspaper editor from Okotoks, who as a provincial Tory came within 2,000 votes of beating Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith in Alberta’s last election.
Barlow indicated he wanted to put all efforts into rebuilding High River and was content to wait for the independent report from the RCMP on the gun seizures and, if warranted, would support an inquiry at a later date.
“It probably had an impact for sure but our message, right from the beginning, is we weren’t going to let one group drive our campaign. We were going to stay with a broad vision and we wanted to make sure all the issues were addressed – not just one,” Barlow told reporters Saturday.
The yet-to-be called byelection became necessary when Ted Menzies, former minister of state for finance, stepped down in November.
Mathieson, 24, was the first person to raise the gun seizure issue during the campaign. She doesn’t think her position backfired with voters.
“I’m going to say no. It got a lot of people out to the polls and I still feel very strongly about it,” Mathieson said.
“I don’t expect that issue will go away anytime soon.”
There was speculation the vote would become a contest between provincial supporters of the Wildrose party and the Alberta Progressive Conservatives. Barlow said he made a concerted effort to downplay that, especially since he ran against the Wildrose leader.
“I tried pretty hard to make sure this was all inclusive and this wasn’t a provincial thing,” said Barlow.
“We’re on the same team at the federal level. It didn’t come up a lot but I’m sure it was rippling under the surface a little bit.”
David Taras, a political scientist at Calgary-based Mount Royal University, said Macleod is one of the safest ridings in the country and the only thing that could prevent the Conservatives from winning it would be the “bubonic plague.”
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