Alberta election 2012: Fifteen key ridings to watch

One could forgive the provincial Tories for indulging in political nostalgia this election campaign.

Gone are the days of elections past when supremacy was taken for granted — and pundits quipped that ballots were weighed instead of counted — in many Calgary and southern Alberta constituencies.

With the Redford government suffering a series of political headaches in the weeks leading up to today's election call, ridings where PC party candidates previously meandered to victory will instead see tight two or three party races.

"I remember just punching in a Klein sign and then going for beers," said one Tory volunteer on the campaign trail in Calgary. "This time, guys are having to work."

Mount Royal University political analyst David Taras said laid-back PC party riding associations that coasted even through the Stelmach years will have to start pounding the pavement, as the Wildrose will target high-profile Tories such as Ted Morton, Jonathan Denis and Ken Hughes, and winning margins could become thin.

"Calgary is the battleground," Taras said.

To claim success, "the Wildrose has to break through in Calgary. They have to break the Tory fortress."

The Liberals are struggling to compete with the long-governing Conservatives and the Wildrose in terms of both money and popular support, provincewide. The Grits will have to fight hard in what Taras calls the city's "red-zone" — those inner-city ridings such as Calgary-Mountain View, Calgary-Currie, Calgary-Buffalo and Calgary-Varsity — to keep their foot in Cowtown.

No matter what their political allegiance, many city voters will be bewildered by an array of riding boundary changes, in course with a seat redistribution that takes effect this election.

Nearly every riding has had its boundaries altered in one way or another, and some have been renamed (Calgary-North Hill becomes Calgary-Klein, Calgary-Egmont becomes Calgary-Acadia, and Calgary-Montrose is gone, taken up in part with a much-metamorphosed Calgary-Greenway).

Calgary will house two additional ridings — Calgary South-East and Calgary-Hawkwood in the northwest — bringing the city's total number of seats to 25 out of a total of 87.

Some ridings are virtually unrecognizable from the past. For instance, Calgary-Hays is geographically a quarter the size it was.

A few of the boundary redistribution choices may have Calgarians scratching their heads. The outstanding example is Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill, which begins in the city's northernmost reaches, but then moves down into the airport area, and juts into neighbourhoods such as Thorncliffe and Huntington Hills. The cluster of northern neighbourhoods including Panorama Hills, Coventry Hills and Harvest Hills is left as an island, in a riding called Calgary-Northern Hills.

Here are a few of the contests to watch with an emphasis on the south battlegrounds now in play before the April 23 vote:


It's the battle of the lawyers. Wildrose candidate Richard Jones began blasting Solicitor General Jonathan Denis since earlier this year. Jones has spearheaded the Wildrose campaign that has seen the distribution of thousands of coasters targeting the Tory government's impaired driving law. The Wildrose says Bill 26, which will enact a host of tougher penalties once it comes into effect, is heavy handed. The Tories say the law will save lives.


The boundary changes see this riding shift in a major way to the west. With incumbent Alberta party MLA Dave Taylor (formerly a Liberal) retiring from politics, this race is a highly competitive contest between the Wildrose's Corrie Adolph, PC candidate Christine Cusanelli, and Liberal Norval Horner. Even though his party is far behind in the polls, Alberta party candidate and lawyer Norm Kelly is said to be a contender.

Calgary-Fish Creek

The riding has been held by Heather Forsyth since 1993, but this is the first election the incumbent will face as a Wildrose party member — Forsyth crossed the floor alongside Rob Anderson in January 2010. PC candidate Wendelin Fraser is an associate professor and former dean at the Bissett School of Business at Mount Royal University. Liberal Nazir Rahemtulla is an accountant at the Alberta Securities Commission.


This altered riding will be carefully scrutinized as incumbent Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman fights to hang onto the seat he narrowly won during a byelection in 2009. But the Tories want back the constituency they held for almost four decades before placing third in the byelection three years ago. The PC party candidate is Linda Johnson, who worked as a constituency assistant for Jim Hawkes, the former MP for Calgary-West. Once considered fertile ground for the Alberta Liberals, the party has yet to nominate a candidate here.


Races in Calgary-McCall are never boring. This election will be no exception, with one-term incumbent Alberta Liberal MLA Darshan Kang, who won with a razor-thin margin 2008, facing off against former church minister and airport tunnel advocate Grant Galpin for the Wildrose, and PC party candidate Muhammad Rasheed.


This riding could be a major test of the health of the Alberta Liberal party, with union leader and former party leadership candidate Bruce Payne attempting to hold onto the Grit seat as incumbent Harry Chase retires. Lawyer, businesswoman and former Nexen vice-president Donna Kennedy-Glans holds the Tory banner.


The campaign here is already fully underway, with Wildrose candidate Andrew Constantinidis (who was once communications manager for MP Rob Anders) sending out news releases attacking former Alberta Health Services board chairman and Redford insider Ken Hughes. It's expected the Wildrose party will pour resources into this long-Tory blue riding to slay the high-profile Hughes. The big question is whether questions about the way the party handled the original, overturned riding nomination vote (which former MLA Shiraz Shariff won) and concerns about the province's health-care system stick to Hughes.


Incumbent Rob Anderson is a strong candidate in the riding directly north of Calgary but the one-term MLA has never been tested running under the Wildrose banner — he crossed the floor from the Tories in January 2010. PC candidate and longtime alderman Kelly Hegg is promising Anderson a competitive run.

Chestermere-Rocky View

Tory MLA and incumbent Ted Morton heads into this election contest in a vastly altered constituency — a change from the hegemony of farms and acreages to the west of the city he has represented in the past. The new horseshoe-shaped riding encircles three-quarters of the city and also takes in the region east of Calgary. Here the cabinet minister and twice-defeated PC party leadership candidate is running against Wildrose candidate and former TV host Bruce McAllister, who makes his home in Chestermere and is expected to attract strong support.


The riding just south of Calgary could be the most watched of the election campaign. Popular Tory incumbent George Groeneveld has departed, leaving an opening for Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, who badly needs win a seat in the legislature to truly take the helm of her party. In a display of how important the riding is, Premier Alison Redford appeared at a High River fundraiser for Tory candidate John Barlow, a popular longtime area resident and Okotoks publisher, last Friday before the election writ was dropped.


In a rare turn of events, incumbent Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Broyce Jacobs was beat handily by retired farmer Pat Shimbashi for the PC nomination last year. But that's no end to the drama in the riding against the U.S. border – it's by no means safe for the Tory party. The Wildrose lost in the 2008 election by just 49 votes. This time, the Wildrose party is represented by oil and gas businessman and Village of Stirling deputy mayor Gary Bikman.


Against all odds, the NDP is pouring resources into Lethbridge-West and candidate Shannon Phillips, a researcher and policy analyst for the Alberta Federation of Labour. Although it's been 23 years since a NDP MLA was elected anywhere south of Edmonton, the federal NDP party did surprisingly well in the area during last year's national election. But Phillips faces a formidable opponent in cabinet minister and incumbent Tory MLA Greg Weadick. The Liberal candidate is Bal Boora. Lethbridge-East could also yield some interesting voting results, with Liberal candidate Rob Miyashiro, executive director of the Lethbridge Senior Citizens Organization, the underdog against Liberal-turned-Redford Tory Bridget Pastoor.


This riding has gone back and forth between the Liberals and Tories over the past decade, and this time around PC party cabinet minister and incumbent Heather Klimchuk is being challenged by the area's former Liberal MLA Bruce Miller, who served between 2004 and 2008. But some say this is a true five-way contest with former school trustee and film director Sue Huff for the Alberta party, the NDP's former leader Ray Martin, and the Wildrose's Don Koziak — a former mayoral candidate — also in the running.


Besides Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, this is likely the most dangerous race for any of the major party leaders. Alberta Liberal Leader and one term MLA Raj Sherman faces his first election as a Grit (after being booted from the Tory caucus in 2010) and is being challenged by former high school principal and MLA Bob Maskell, who wants to return to provincial politics after losing his seat to a Liberal in 2004.

Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo

A former cabinet minister, Guy Boutilier's popularity in his riding has gone almost unquestioned since he was first elected into provincial politics in 1997. But Boutilier hasn't run in an election since being ejected from the Tory caucus and joining the Wildrose party. He is up against PC candidate, and regional councillor and deputy mayor, Mike Allen.

Calgary Herald, Mon Mar 26 2012
Byline: Kelly Cryderman

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