A Calgary election day that really matters

A few Calgary ridings are worth watching on election night in a way none has been for years — or decades. And that makes it so much more interesting, writes Scott Dippel.

Calgarians just might be in for an election day surprise. For a change, the results may not be predictable.

As the marathon that is Election 42 winds down and the voters do their job, many observers say boring old Conservative Calgary just might be in play. (Or it might not.) If it is, perhaps it's a metaphor for the larger Conservative Party picture.

There are indications that with a highly competitive national campaign and some strong local candidates, a few Calgary ridings might be worth watching on election night in a way none of them has been since the vote in November 2000. That night, former PC leader Joe Clark upset Reform Party incumbent Eric Lowther in Calgary Centre.

The most attention this time will be on Calgary Centre, Calgary Confederation and Calgary Skyview, where well-known Liberal challengers are squaring off against some high-profile or incumbent Conservative candidates.

Liberals' long barren stretch may end

As any keen observer of Calgary's political scene knows, these parts have been barren ground for the Liberal Party of Canada. A federal Grit hasn't won here since some guy named Trudeau ran a campaign in 1968, which generated so much excitement, the country attached the word "-mania" to the end of his name.

Pat Mahoney won in Calgary South in '68 but things went sour as Trudeau's government tumbled to a minority in 1972. Even though he was given some minor cabinet responsibilities, Mahoney was thumped by the PC candidate in the following election.

The one-termer remains the last Liberal to win in Calgary. Pierre Trudeau and his National Energy Program in the heat of a global recession scorched the earth for the party for more than a generation.

Mahoney died in 2012 but he did leave us with one vintage quote that may or may not be ultimately proven correct: "I think we will elect an MP in Calgary again before the Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup."

Mahoney didn't live to see it but a series of events could see his prediction ring true. After all, Toronto's NHL team is still a long shot to make the playoffs.

How Calgary has changed

Calgary has changed since 1968. It's a more diverse city, both ethnically and politically. Yes, everyone will point to its progressive mayor but there are other factors. 

In the last provincial election, 15 of 25 seats in conservative-minded Calgary went to the NDP. That didn't happen because Calgarians necessarily approve of everything in the NDP policy book. They voted for change locally and they helped make that happen provincially. 

They didn't just vote the same way their parents did. And that's what people used to do in this town. A lot.

For this campaign, the Liberals pulled together some electable candidates. Combine that with the national campaign picture, which has the Libs thinking they can vault from third to first place and suddenly, there's a reason for Calgarians to care about this election. 

Who they vote for is a matter of personal preference but a higher turnout in some ridings could make a difference in a way we haven't seen in a long time. 

If you're a Conservative and you want your team to win, you bet you want to vote. These supporters don't want to see anyone in power but Stephen Harper. 

There have always been Liberals, New Democrats, Greens and other party supporters in Calgary. But in past elections, the committed came out and the rest tended to stay home because they didn't think their vote could make a difference. Given competitive races, every vote counts. 

I was chatting with political scientist Lori Williams from Mount Royal University the other day and she pointed to a tie vote in last spring's provincial election in the riding of Calgary Glenmore. 

It's a solid small-c conservative riding, which just also happens to be smack dab in the middle of Stephen Harper's federal riding boundaries. Provincially, it initially finished in a tie between the PCs and the NDP but on a recount, it went New Democrat. Every vote mattered.

Grits mindful of ground game

So watch for the Grits to be mindful of their ground game on Monday to get out every vote they can.

Local Liberals tell me they know the stakes are high with their party leading recent polls. Volunteers have been coming in from other ridings to pitch in Centre, Confederation and Skyview. 

They are well aware any Liberal candidate who wins a riding in Calgary will find themselves sitting around the cabinet table if Team Trudeau is asked to form a government. 

That's not to say all Calgary Conservatives are worried. 

For example, Jason Kenney has spent significantly more time in other parts of the country helping his party and other Conservative candidates than he has in Calgary Midnapore. If he's at all concerned about losing his seat, Kenney's not showing it.

All this to say that politics is really starting to matter in Calgary. When the outcome is not so predictable, that makes it just that much more interesting to watch what's going on.