Calgary Herald

Party leaders skipping tories’ southern alberta fortress

- Jason Fekete

The federal election campaign is nearly two weeks old and party leaders have yet to touch down in Calgary — the country’s fourth-largest city — as the Tory fortress of southern Alberta continues to be largely ignored by the political heavyweigh­ts.

Conservati­ve Leader Stephen Harper, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and the NDP’s Jack Layton have criss-crossed the country stumping for votes in nearly every major centre — except Calgary — and there’s no guarantee they’ll even stop in the city.

The closest they’ve come to Calgary is at 35,000 feet while flying over the province to and from British Columbia.

In a bizarre twist, all three of the main party leaders are expected to spend less time in the city during the 41st general election campaign than they did for last summer’s Calgary Stampede.

The leaders have largely avoided Alberta and its 28 seats and instead focused their time and resources on vote-rich Ontario, Quebec and B.C. But they’ve also stopped in every province, including small communitie­s in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundla­nd and Labrador.

“Leaders go where votes are up for grabs. There’s no reason for leaders to be here,” said David Taras, political analyst at Mount Royal University.

“Alberta is flyover country in terms of the election.”

The leaders’ lack of interest in visiting Alberta and Calgary — along with landslide Tory election victories — breeds voter apathy, he added.

In the 2008 federal election, the smallest margin of victory among the city’s eight Toryheld ridings was 11,484 votes in Calgary Northeast.

The Conservati­ves hold 26 of Alberta’s 28 seats, with Jim Prentice’s former Calgary Centre-North riding vacant since he quit politics last fall, and the NDP’s Linda Duncan clinging to her Edmonton seat. The Liberals haven’t elected anyone in Calgary since 1968.

Layton made a quick stop in Edmontonon­thefirstda­yofthe campaign, while Harper held a brief rally a couple of days later south of the provincial capital in Beaumont, a few minutes from the main airport.

Ignatieff has so far only flown over Alberta and Saskatchew­an during a campaign that has seen his party pledge to clean up oilsands developmen­t, formalize a ban on crude oil tankers moving through the West Coast and adopt a cap-and-trade emissions reduction program.

But the Liberal l eader stressed Wednesday during a stop in Quebec he’s hoping to bolster his party’s support across the country and won’t ignore Alberta and Saskatchew­an.

“We’ve got plans to have campaign events in both provinces. I’m extremely optimistic,” Ignatieff said. “I want to be the prime minister of all Canadians. I want to be the prime minister that has representa­tion in every province and territory in the country.”

Conservati­ve party spokesman Ryan Sparrow wouldn’t say whether Harper, a Calgary MP, will return to Alberta before the May 2 election, noting the leader’s itinerary is only released a day in advance.

Calgary Southeast Tory incumbent Jason Kenney said Harper’s national responsibi­li-

leaders go where votes are up for grabs. there’s no reason for leaders to be here, PoliTical analysT david Taras

ties demand he spend most of the campaign in other provinces, but expects the leader will stop in the city at least once before election day.

“He always does visit Calgary during the campaign. But he’s the prime minister, he has to cover 308 ridings, 10 provinces. That’s why all of the leaders are only able to make it to Alberta a couple of times during the election campaign. It’s just a question of geography,” Kenney said. “Thanks to Prime Minister Harper, the West is in.”

Lou Arab, the NDP’s Alberta campaign manager, expects Layton will return to Edmonton, where the party hopes to win three seats, but doubts the leader will stop in Calgary. “We’re focusing our efforts on constituen­cies we think we can win,” Arab noted. “In Calgary, it is Conservati­ve country.”

Back in Quebec, Ignatieff praised Western Canadians for showing leadership on fighting climate change, but blames the Harper government for dropping the ball. He noted western premiers have played a strong role in pushing for a cap-and-trade system.

“Let’s get this cliché out of heads that Western Canadians aren’t concerned about the environmen­t, aren’t concerned about getting greenhouse gases down,” he added.

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