It’s widely known that politically, Alberta is a conservative province, and a place with many guaranteed seats for federal Conservatives at election time.
However, experts say the entire province isn’t necessarily a slam dunk for Erin O’Toole and his team this time around, with other front-runner parties, as well as fringe parties, gaining popularity.
According to Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt, nearly every riding in Alberta “is going to be won by the Conservatives with lopsided margins.”
“It’s the demographics that are different in those ridings (that are likely to flip).”
“If you look at where Liberals — progressives — do well, they’re in urban centres, but specific types of urban centres: either downtown course — Edmonton Centre, Calgary Centre — or university campuses like (Calgary) Confederation, where the University of Calgary is, (Edmonton) Strathcona, where the University of Alberta is, or large visible minority communities like (Edmonton) Mill Woods, Griesbach, (Calgary) Skyview.”
MRU associate professor of policy studies Lori Williams said issues like affordable childcare and a strong environmental plan could be deal breakers for front-runner parties among voters in ridings in play.
Political strategist Zain Velji said while the other ridings in Alberta are unlikely to flip, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll vote in favour of O’Toole’s Conservatives.
“Erin O’Toole… has been running a much more centrist, almost PC-style campaign. Very much pandering to Quebec, very much getting in the soup with the other leaders regarding some of the more progressive issues,” he said.
“He’s going to pay a price for that in Alberta and that price is going to be a reduction, maybe not in seats, but certainly percentage.”
Analysts also believe that while voters are casting their ballots in a federal election, the state of the province’s politics will be a big factor in their decisions.
‘”You might see whatever happens on Monday as being a bit of a litmus test on Jason Kenney and a bit of a proxy war on Jason Kenney, because I think he’s on the ballot,” Velji said.
All three political experts said it’s notable that front-runner federal leaders have spent little time in Alberta through the course of the campaign, signalling that the province is “flyover country,” and not a priority in the battle for seats.
“They haven’t spent a lot of time here because there’s just not a lot of votes that are in play,” Williams said, adding that could hurt all party leaders when it comes to gaining ground.
“There is particularly the possibility of the People’s Party of Canada — that’s polling somewhere around 13 per cent in Alberta — there’s a possibility of it drawing votes away from the Conservatives and in some ridings that could make the difference between a win or a loss for the Conservatives.”
Bratt agreed that fringe parties like the PPC and Maverick Party could make some gains percentage wise in Alberta this election, but said it’s unlikely those votes would be make-it-or-break-it for the Conservative Party of Canada.
“Even if the Mavericks worked with the People’s Party, with some of the independents, they still weren’t going to win. What they were going to do is take (a Conservative candidate’s) support from 80 per cent, drop it to 55 per cent.”
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Here are the Alberta ridings to watch as the votes start rolling in on Monday night:
Williams said while Liberal candidate Sabrina Grover isn’t as well-known in Calgary Centre as incumbent Greg McLean, recent news that those on the campaign trail with her were subject to threats and attacks have raised her profile.
“And I think she’s been campaigning pretty well on the ground, quite effectively. Certainly in interviews, she’s shown herself to be very, very knowledgeable and competent, not just on issues that she has expertise in, but on what the Liberal Party stands for, what (Justin Trudeau’s) platform is, what its advantages are,” Williams said.
“She’s able to defend it against criticism quite effectively.”
Political watchers are also keeping their eye on Calgary Confederation, with Liberal candidate Murray Sigler running with a strong chance at a win.
“Murray Siegler, I think is incredibly high profile, really well-known,” Williams said.
“Looks like he’s that best sort of combination of Liberal and Conservative, is running for the Liberals against a candidate that did OK in the last election.”
Sitting Calgary Councillor George Chahal is a front-runner in the campaign for Calgary Skyview, and if he wins his seat, all three experts believe he’ll likely be appointed a cabinet position.
Along with a strong track record of representing his constituents on a municipal level, Chahal comes from a strong political family background, and watchers say he’s executed a strong campaign that makes Calgary Skyview “the one to watch to see how good of a night the Liberals will be having.”
“Because George Chahal is basically a current city councillor and has extensive experience representing at least part of that constituency, and has been campaigning quite hard in that in that riding, I think he’s considered to be a pretty strong contender,” Williams said.
According to Velji, Edmonton Centre is almost guaranteed to flip, but the big question at play in the riding is: how strong is support for NDP, and will that work in favour of the incumbent?
“That is a progressive place, no question about it,” he said.
“But the issue always is the vote split between the NDP and the Liberals. I think the fact that it still is a toss up between the Liberals and the NDP in terms of who could win, there is probably really good news for the Conservatives because it gives them the pathway.”
“It looks like Griesbach might be in play for the New Democrats, interestingly,” Williams explained.”
“And you’ll notice that Jagmeet Singh visited Edmonton, but not Calgary — just shows you there’s a lot more for him to work with there.”
Velji added to that, saying candidate Blake Desjarlais has also had Janis Irwin and Brian Mason join his campaign. He also pointed out that sitting incumbent Conservative MP Kerry Diotte is a somewhat divisive candidate.
Political watchers agree that incumbent NDP candidate Heather McPherson is all but guaranteed to secure her seat in Edmonton Strathcona for another term.
“If that one, for whatever reason, does not stay orange, it could be kind of a bellwether in terms of how progressive parties might be doing and Alberta overall,” Velji said.