Liberals see chance in Edmonton Strathcona after NDP MP's retirement

Linda Duncan's decision not to run again for the NDP in Edmonton Strathcona has raised Liberal hopes of snapping up the seat on Oct. 21.

Linda Duncan was MP for 11 years, but central Edmonton riding has elected conservatives

Liberal Eleanor Olszewski is running for a second time in Edmonton Strathcona. She introduced Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau at an election rally in Edmonton on Thursday. (Craig Ryan/CBC )

Linda Duncan's decision not to run again for the NDP in Edmonton Strathcona has raised Liberal hopes of snapping up the seat on Oct. 21. 

"Linda Duncan having stepped down has made quite a change with respect to our chances," Liberal candidate Eleanor Olszewski said in an interview with CBC News. "I think people are more open-minded this time with respect to the way that they're going to vote." 

Olszewski was singled out during Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's campaign stop in Edmonton on Thursday. The Edmonton lawyer introduced Trudeau and was highlighted in the leader's remarks to the crowd. Trudeau didn't mention incumbents Randy Boissonnault and Amarjeet Sohi. 

Duncan represented the riding as the only NDP MP in Alberta for 11 years, and NDP leader Rachel Notley represents the area provincially. But the central-Edmonton constituency has a history of voting Conservative in federal elections. 

Rahim Jaffer, a Conservative, was the MP from 1997 to 2008. His predecessors were from the former Progressive Conservative and Reform parties. The Liberals last represented the riding from 1968 to 1972.

In the 2015 federal election, Conservative Len Thom received 17,395 votes to the 24,446 cast for Duncan. 

More significantly, there are questions about whether the Liberals will keep the three Alberta seats they currently hold, let alone add another one. 

NDP candidate Heather McPherson, right, looks at a riding map with a volunteer in her campaign office. (Scott Neufeld/CBC )

Trudeau is an unpopular figure with many Albertans, a fact the United Conservative Party leveraged successfully in the spring provincial election by labelling him as a "close friend and ally" to Notley when she was premier. 

Since the April election, Premier Jason Kenney has continued his attacks against Trudeau.

It's not known how the Conservatives rate their chances in Edmonton Strathcona, because their candidate, Sam Lilly, was not made available for an interview. 

High hopes

Lilly may benefit from a split of the progressive vote among Olszewski, NDP candidate Heather McPherson and Green Party candidate Michael Kalmanovitch.

McPherson, who has been door knocking since January, doesn't think a vote split will be a factor. 

"This has been the heartland of NDP in Alberta for a very long time," she said. "I think people are excited about keeping Edmonton Strathcona orange, and we've got a great team behind us."

But federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh's position on pipelines has made political life awkward for Alberta New Democrats. Notley has openly criticized Singh for his opposition to Trudeau's decision to buy the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project in 2018. 

McPherson deflected a question about the possible impact of Singh's position, talking instead about Notley and other NDP MLAs in Edmonton. She also evaded a question about her support for the Trans Mountain pipeline. 

"It's already been approved, so it actually doesn't matter," she said. 

McPherson said both the Conservatives and Liberals failed to improve the approval process for major pipeline projects, which has created uncertainty for Albertans and the resource industry. 

"My job is going to be to make sure that we have jobs for Albertans, that we're making life more affordable for Albertans and that we're protecting our industry from the boom-and-bust cycles that we've been going through over the last decades."

The Green Party could make life difficult for the NDP in Edmonton Strathcona. Michael Kalmanovitch, owner of Earth's General Store and a stalwart of the local environmental community, is the party's candidate. 

Michael Kalmanovitch, the Green Party candidate in Edmonton Strathcona, is the owner of Earth's General Store. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Kalmanovitch said Duncan is a friend, so he wouldn't have run for the Greens if she had sought a fourth term in office. 

The NDP's plan doesn't go far enough to address climate change, he said, so voters in Edmonton Strathcona could send a strong message by electing a Green MP.

"We could send back an NDP person back to Ottawa but that doesn't really say anything," he said. " But if a Green is elected from this riding ... I think that would be an incredible message to send across Canada, that we are showing up and we are demanding some kind of change."

Edmonton engineer Ian Cameron is running for the People's Party of Canada. He said the party could have appeal to voters who have voted Liberal or Conservative in the past. 

"We're a new party but we do have elements of each party within our platform," he said. "Since we are pulling from both aspects of both the left and the right, I think it would be interesting to see where we fit in this election."

Engineer Ian Cameron is the People's Party of Canada candidate in Edmonton Strathcona. (Peter Evans/CBC )

With files from the CBC's Kim Trynacity