Inside Politics

By-election Watch: Meet the candidates in Calgary Centre and Durham!

With the Supreme Court taking its sweet time in handing down a verdict in the Etobicoke Centre election challenge, it seems as good a time as any to turn our attention to the two ridings that are indubitably by-election bound, starting with Calgary Centre, which was, readers will doubtless recall, left vacant when longtime Conservative MP Lee Richardson signed off to serve as principal secretary to Alberta premier Alison Redford. 

(In theory, the PM could wait until mid-November to call the vote, but past history would suggest that he's unlikely to wait out the full six months, particularly since his party is almost certainly going to win it in a walk, but he does seem to like to hold by-elections in threes, which means he may be waiting to see what happens in Etobicoke Centre before making up his mind on the timing.) 

Leading the pack to replace Richardson -- chronologically, that is, as she was the very first hopeful to declare her interest, even going so far as to add it to her LinkedIn profile  -- is Joan Crockatt, who, until very recently, could frequently be found expounding on the issues of the day as a regular panelist for CBC News Network's Power and Politics.

A former president of the Alberta Legislative Press Gallery, Crockatt is the former managing editor of the Calgary Herald and currently works as a "media consultant specializing in strategic communications. Her website avers that her "first love is politics," which might explain her journey from from the press room to the back room to the spotlight.

One potential stumbling block, however: last week, her former paper reported that Crockatt hasn't been a card-carrying Conservative for the six months required to run for the nomination. Crockatt, however, seems confident that the party will let that slide, telling the Herald that she has "a very strong record of standing up for Conservative values, being a spokesperson for small-c conservatism and being a supporter of the prime minister."

Also set to throw his hat into the ring: Calgary-area businessman and veteran Conservative campaign strategist Jordan Katz, who managed Ted Morton's  ill-fated bid to hang onto his seat during the last Alberta provincial election.

A relative newcomer to the province, Katz hails from Ontario, where he worked the casino circuit in Windsor and Rama, and as a chef at the Hilton Hotel.

In 2004, he ran for the Conservatives in Windsor West, but finished a distant third. Three years later, he seemed set to make a second attempt at winning a seat in the Commons when he was acclaimed as the Conservative candidate in London-Fanshawe, but stepped down for unknown reasons. Katz subsequently returned to the familiar hustings of Windsor, where he headed up Lisa Lumley's ultimately futile efforts to oust now veteran NDP incumbent Brian Masse in 2008 and 2011.

Sidebar: According to his official bio, when he's not on the campaign trail, Katz is now with Momentuum BPO Inc., a Toronto-based firm that "offers constituency management tools to elected officials."

Earlier this year, he sat down with Windsor Star reporter Chris Vander Doelen to share his thoughts on the robocalls controversy. He conceded that "it might have been some punk kid trying something on his own," but stressed that it was "so unlikely" that the party would be behind the alleged scheme.

Two-time city alderman, former MLA and erstwhile mayoral candidate Jon Lord is also eyeing the seat, according to his website, which describes him as an "award-winning entrepreneur" and "dedicated and passionate environmentalist" while noting that he was also nominated as "Canadian Tax Fighter of the Year."

According to his bio, Lord's "rare political experience at two levels of government" makes him the candidate "BEST ABLE to DELIVER [sic]" and proclaims it "time to take this experience across the nation!"

He won't be the only civic politician in the race: also preparing to contest the slot is sitting alderman John Mar, who described the vacancy as "an opportunity that's arisen" although he maintains that Richardson's resignation was "a complete surprise," at least to him. As for why he wants the job, and what he plans to do if he wins the nomination -- and, almost certainly, the by-election, well, that, it seems, will remain a surprise-in-waiting for the rest of us, at least until he makes it official.

Finally, rounding out the field is Stefan Spargo, Richardson's former campaign manager, whose official bio is heavy on his local party credentials and light on his non-political experience, describing him only as a "small businessman and entrepreneur". 

According to this 2011 Edmonton Journal story, he sells cars, but, perhaps more crucially, is also so zealous a fan of Irish rock band U2 that he was not only prepared to spend a night in line outside Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium with only "a slab of green foam for comfort," but has endured even more spartan conditions during past concerts, telling the Journal, "I'm a MacGyver kind of guy ... foam, cardboard, whatever I can find."

"I'm a MacGyver kind of guy," Spargo said. "Foam, cardboard, whatever I can find."
Oh, and he also flies both a Canadian and Alberta flag on his house. Your move, everyone else in the race.

Meanwhile, no fewer than three local Liberals are prepared to march into the valley of virtually certain electoral doom under the crimson banner:

    • Harvey Locke, a former lawyer turned "fulltime conservationalist" with ties to both the provincial and federal Liberal parties

    • Rahim Sajan, a high school science teacher and the co-founder of TEDxCalgary, whose website describes his family, which includes a brother serving with the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, a sister working to become a nurse and "yet another [sister] involved in the public service" a "living example of the wisdom of the immigration policies championed by Liberals"

    • Beena Ashar, who came just shy of cracking the 1,000 vote threshold when she went head to head against Alberta PC Leader Alison Redford during the provincial election. (Redford's final tally? 9,369.)

      UPDATE: According to an update posted to her Facebook account last week, Ashar has dropped out of the race due to an "urgent family situation." 

Elsewhere on the opposition also-rans-in-waiting front: 2011 Green Party candidate William Hamilton will apparently reprise that role in the upcoming by-election. Undaunted, it seems, by having been fairly thoroughly trounced by Richardson during their last go-round, Hamilton has continued to pepper his former competitor with criticism and critiques since the election, a selection of which can be found on the website.

The New Democrats, on the other hand, are playing remarkably coy; presumably, the party will field a candidate, but as yet, no names of likely suspects have surfaced.

Finally, although the riding won't officially free up until July 31st when soon-to-be-former MP Bev Oda's resignation goes through, there are already two Conservative candidates-in-waiting circling the starting blocks in Durham.

In what may or may not be a deliberate, if understated shot at the departing Oda, retired Canadian Forces captain turned lawyer Erin O'Toole pledges to provide "accountable, accessible and professional representation," while Thomas Coughlan, who announced his candidacy by press release to the Ottawa press gallery, was most recently employed as an aide to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and promises "dynamic service" with a "major focus on high-quality jobs."

Although he has yet to formally declare, former Liberal candidate Grant Humes is expected to take another run at the riding that eluded him last year, although with an open nomination, he could face a challenge.

As for the New Democrats, the Greens, John Turmel and all the rest of the usual suspects, well -- stay tuned. Let the speculation begin!
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