Conservatives maintain Prairie stronghold

The Conservative party maintained its stronghold in the Prairie provinces in Tuesday's federal election.

The Conservative party maintained its stronghold in the Prairie provinces in Tuesday's federal election.

Conservatives were elected in 27 of Alberta's 28 seats. They trailed briefly in Edmonton-Sherwood Park, where Independent candidate James Ford was up over Conservative Tim Uppal at one point in a tight race, but Uppal pulled ahead.

In Edmonton Strathcona, Conservative national caucus chair Rahim Jaffer was up against NDP candidate Linda Duncan, who was given a chance by some and was granted an early campaign visit by NDP Leader Jack Layton. The race was tight and going back and forth, with Duncan taking a slight lead and prevailing at the end.

In Saskatchewan, where 14 seats were up for grabs, Tories were elected in 13 ridings. Ralph Goodale's seat in Wascana was the only Liberal riding left in Saskatchewan in 2006, so he was a target of the Conservatives. This time around, he was up against Michelle Hunter, who ran unsuccessfully for the Saskatchewan Party in the 2003 provincial election.

Ralph Goodale was re-elected in his riding of Wascana. ((CBC))

Goodale was elected.

In Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar, Conservative Kelly Block and NDP candidate Nettie Wiebe went back and forth all night, with Block finally prevailing.

In Manitoba, the Tories took nine seats, the NDP four and the Liberals one.

There are 56 seats in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and in 2006 the Conservatives had the lion's share at 49, with the Liberals holding four and the NDP three, so there were limited gains available for the Tories in the region.

Oilsands a major issue

One issue of a national scope played out before voters during the campaign: how the parties' environmental stances would affect future development of the oilsands in Alberta, an issue highlighted when NDP Leader Jack Layton flew over the area early in the election campaign.

To a lesser extent, the efforts of Stephen Harper's Conservative government to break the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly over western barley sales could have shaped voters' actions.

Despite the dominance of the Conservatives, there were a number of intriguing races in the Prairies.

Gerry Ritz, agriculture minister and minister for the Canadian Wheat Board, was fighting in the Saskatchewan riding of Battlefords-Lloydminster, and was re-elected. Ritz came under heavy criticism during the campaign after it was revealed he had joked in the summer about the listeriosis outbreak while on a conference call. He later apologized.

In Manitoba's Kildonan-St. Paul riding, former Liberal candidate Lesley Hughes was making a bid to win as an Independent. Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion fired Hughes in late September over an article she wrote six years ago as a freelance journalist. She had suggested Israeli intelligence warned the U.S. in advance of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, and that Israeli businesses left before hijacked airplanes destroyed the complex. Hughes was in third place behind the Tories and NDP. Joy Smith won the riding for the Tories.

Several Tory cabinet ministers were running in the region, as was Harper, in Calgary Southwest. Harper pulled in more than 70 per cent of the vote early on and won handily.

"We accept this mandate ... and appreciate the trust voters have given us," Harper said Tuesday night.

Industry Minister Jim Prentice was elected in Calgary-Centre-North, Rona Ambrose (in charge of intergovernmental affairs and Western economic diversification, and president of the Privy Council) won in Edmonton-Spruce Grove, and Treasury Board President Vic Toews was declared in Provencher in Manitoba.

Jason Kenney, secretary of state for multiculturalism and Canadian identity, running in Calgary Southeast, took a staggering 75 per cent of the vote in 2006. He was nearing that percentage in early results Tuesday and won.

Former Reform party leader Preston Manning, left, watches election results with Conservative candidate Jason Kenney in Calgary. ((Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press))

As for other cabinet ministers from the Prairies, Diane Ablonczy, secretary of state for small business and tourism, who was running in Calgary-Nose Hill, a suburban riding in Calgary's northwest, won easily again.

The Tories were projected to take 145 seats, short of the majority needed in the 308-seat House of Commons.

Ablonczy said the party had hoped for a majority.

"But we've said all along that we expected a minority," she told CBC News. "We're very pleased with the very solid, very strong mandate that we've received tonight. And I think you'll see a Parliament that works much better going forward because the people have spoken. We now have a new mandate. We have some resolution of some issues. So I think that will be very positive for Canada."

Eyes were also on a couple of races that featured former professional athletes running for the Conservatives.

In the downtown riding of Winnipeg South Centre, former Winnipeg Blue Bombers kicker Trevor Kennerd was recruited to run against Liberal incumbent Anita Neville. But Neville held her seat.

In the northeast end of Winnipeg, another former pro athlete, long-time Winnipeg Jets captain Thomas Steen, ran in Elmwood-Transcona against strong NDP candidate Jim Maloway, who won seven straight elections in the Manitoba legislature before retiring. Steen came up short, with Maloway declared the winner.

In the riding of St. Boniface, Liberal incumbent Raymond Simard was expected to be tested by Conservative candidate Shelly Glover, a high-profile Winnipeg police spokesperson who is a 16-year veteran of the Winnipeg Police Service. Glover, however, won the race.

In Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River, a Saskatchewan riding, the race was made interesting after Dion's favoured candidate, Joan Beatty, lost in a nomination battle to David Orchard. Orchard, who ran unsuccessfully for the leadership of the former Progressive Conservative party in 1998 and 2003, lost to Conservative incumbent Rob Clarke, a former RCMP sergeant who took the seat in a March 2008 byelection.

"We had a very, very short time to start up, and when you're running against an incumbent, that's a very hard thing to do," said Orchard. "But we worked very, very hard and we had nothing whatsoever to be ashamed of and we brought issues to the table that wouldn't have been brought there otherwise."

Aboriginal voters play a big role in Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River, and might have held the key to victory, some election observers believed.

Keeper loses her seat

Churchill, the seat held by Liberal and former North of 60 star Tina Keeper, went to NDP candidate Niki Ashton, who was back for a second run at the riding. Keeper had served as special adviser in the Liberal caucus for aboriginal outreach, and served as public health critic as well as heritage critic in the House of Commons, but ended up in a fight for second spot.

At 108 votes, Conservative Rod Bruinooge in Winnipeg South had the smallest margin of victory on the Prairies in the 2006 election when he bested former Liberal cabinet minister Reg Alcock. This time around, he defeated Liberal John Loewan, a former Manitoba MLA.

In the Saskatchewan riding of Palliser, Conservative incumbent Dave Batters did not run for re-election, citing a health issue. So former Moose Jaw mayor Ray Boughen was plucked to run for the Tories against another former Moose Jaw mayor, NDP candidate Don Mitchell. Former Regina police chief Cal Johnston ran for the Liberals.

The battle of the former mayors and the police chief went to Boughen.

In Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre, Conservative Tom Lukiwski won, even after being embarrassed earlier this year by anti-gay remarks he made on a 16-year-old videotape that surfaced in early April.

Alberta seats

Lee Richardson, the Calgary Centre Tory who made controversial comments about those committing crimes (saying "They're not the kid that grew up next door"), was the winner in his riding, again beating Liberal Heesung Kim.

The urban riding in Edmonton Centre, once held by Liberal deputy prime minister Anne McLellan, was won again by former fighter pilot Laurie Hawn, who lost to McLellan in 2004 but defeated her in 2006. The Tory's Liberal competitor this time was Jim Wachowich.

Of the 3.8 million eligible voters in the Prairie region in 2006, just over 2.4 million voted, a 62.5 per cent average for the area.

When the election was called in early September, the Conservatives held 127 seats across Canada, the Liberals had 95, the Bloc Québécois held 48, the NDP had 30 and the Greens had one (B.C. Liberal-turned-Independent MP Blair Wilson joined the Greens days before the election call).

Independents held three seats and another four seats were vacant.