Why the cracks emerged for the Tories in Fortress Calgary

Devinder Shory's lacklustre record and Joan Crockatt's baggage helped bring about the historic Liberal victories in Calgary on election night — but Albertans will expect tax breaks and pipelines as Justin Trudeau takes the reins in Ottawa.

Kang and Hehr take first Grit seats in Cowtown since the original Trudeau-mania

Stephen Harper conciliatory, expresses gratitude to Canadians 3:02

1968. That was a long time ago.

As Canada basked in the glow of a successful centennial celebration and Montreal's Expo '67, Calgary elected a Liberal MP in 1968. Pat Mahoney went on to lose that seat in 1972. There hasn't been a federal Liberal elected in this city in 13 elections since. Until now.

Stephen Harper tried to be upbeat in the face of the Conservatives' defeat while addressing supporters at an election night gathering in Calgary. But while Harper kept his seat, two other ridings in Fortress Calgary went to the Liberals as they swept into power with a majority.

As the Harper government is swept from office, there are some things the same but some differences. Canada seems to have reverted to a more familiar kind of parliament. It appears the Liberals and the Conservatives are still the ones who trade places in the House of Commons. 

The NDP returns to its traditional third place rump in the far corner with 40-some seats. The Bloc Québécois stays a small caucus that will be stifled by a majority government and two bigger opposition parties ahead of it on that side of the House.

Traditionally when the Grits take power, the West and particularly Calgary tend to get marginalized. Calgary actually became quite good at that because it typically only supports the home team. 

That team has always been a shade on the right side of the spectrum — the PCs, the Reform Party, the Canadian Alliance and lately, the Conservative Party which have controlled all the seats here for decades.

Shory's lacklustre record helped Kang to victory

The Liberals west of Ontario are still a small, primarily urban group. But unlike elections since 1972, there are Calgarians on the team.

Former Liberal MLA Darshan Kang was the first to make local history.

Conservative Devinder Shory, a low-profile backbench MP with little record of accomplishments in office, is the one who becomes the answer to a trivia question: Who was the first federal Conservative Party of Canada MP to lose to a Liberal in Calgary?

The Libs knew they had a shot in Skyview. They've been working hard there for months and that confidence was rewarded when Justin Trudeau himself put in a final campaign appearance in the northeast riding on the eve of this election.

Baggage-packing Crockatt

The Grits made a little more history by keeping everyone up late in Calgary Centre. There, another former Liberal MLA, Kent Hehr, managed to knock off Conservative Joan Crockatt.

The Liberal populist built on his base in the riding, parts of which he held as a Liberal MLA. He's frequently seen on the street in the area and his team was bolstered by Liberals, who flowed in from other ridings, knowing they had a real chance there.

Crockatt carried plenty of baggage into this race. She narrowly won in a by-election almost three years ago following the resignation of Lee Richardson. 

While popular with local Conservatives, she became closely identified with Stephen Harper, which for an inner-city riding with a younger, highly transient population is likely a bit of a penalty out of the blocks.

But beyond those two ridings, Calgary remains a Tory bastion. The rest of the team ensured eight of 10 Calgary ridings stayed blue. 

Newcomers Tom Kmiec, Pat Kelly and a couple of former PC MLAs, Ron Liepert and Len Webber, join the Tory ranks. Rather than triumphantly going to Ottawa to govern, they find themselves heading for the Official Opposition benches.

Calgarians will expect tax breaks and pipelines

The next prime minister can do something that no previous Liberal PM has been able to do since his dad's first term: pick someone from Calgary to sit around the cabinet table. So if this Trudeau wants to try to build his Calgary beachhead, at least he doesn't have to resort to unelected senators to be this city's voice in cabinet.

Finding success will mean the Grits must connect with the issues that matter to Calgarians in their recession-racked economy. They'll want tax breaks. They'll want pipelines to get Alberta's energy resources to international markets.

The Liberals have 'been smart all through this campaign, on everything from the TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership] to oil to security issues … [but] just how much room is there to move on these issues that are critical to Albertans.'- Political scientist Anthony Sayers

Anthony Sayers, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, sums up the Liberal potential for growth this way: "They've been smart all through this campaign, on everything from the TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership] to oil to security issues … have positioned themselves so they're at least believable, it's believable that they're open-minded about these things."

But if they're to overcome election night anger/giddiness, this courtship needs to grow or it may quickly wither.

"I guess that will be the position that the government and Albertans will have to figure out — just how much room is there to move on these issues that are critical to Albertans," said Sayers.

Stephen Harper did a lot for Albertans and they rewarded him again with 29 seats in the province. However, he didn't get any pipelines built, even if that is a result of many reasons beyond his control. 

And if Trudeau manages to change the narrative that he's a tax-raising, deficit-running, eastern prime minister — as some local Tories grumbled on election night — he could hold even or even gain seats the next time around.


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