Battle rages in Calgary’s only open riding

It's the only open race in Calgary — with no incumbent seeking re-election — and now the mad dash to the finish has begun.

The five federal hopefuls in Calgary Centre-North are working hard over the final weekend before Monday's election, to solidify their votes in this inner-city riding — chatting with residents at events such as pancake breakfasts, door-knocking and meet-and-greets at senior homes.

Political analysts say Conservative candidate Michelle Rempel stands the best chance because of the strength of her party's brand and lingering support for retired cabinet minister Jim Prentice.

Unlike other ridings, the campaign is not a done deal, said Duane Bratt, a political science professor at Mount Royal University.

"It's the only interesting race in Calgary," said Bratt.

And in the improbable chance that a non-Conservative candidate was elected, "everything would change," he said. "It would be giving hope to every other riding, that there's the possibility that this could happen."

For her part, Rempel spent a good part of Saturday door-knocking with a group of volunteers, which included her husband, Scott, and previous mayoral hopeful Ric McIver.

As the sky grew gloomy over the intersection of Northmount Drive and Centre Street N.W., Rempel hugged her team and set off running — literally — to the doors of the Thorncliffe neighbourhood.

"It's all about going out and talking to voters," said Rempel, the 31-year-old director of institutional programs division at the University of Calgary, who is running for office for the first time. And what she's hearing, she said, is support for a Conservative majority.

Not so at the rally to protest "Harper's Broken Promises" on pension reform, at Eau Claire Market, organized by the Alberta Federation of Labour.

About 100 people, including NDP candidate Paul Vargis and Marxist-Leninist candidate Peggy Askin, showed up to voice their support for labour rights, such as health care and education.

"It's very important to be here with all these workers," said Askin, who has run for office since 1974.

At his small campaign office on Centre Street N. at 9th Avenue, Vargis took a rest after a visiting a senior residence and main-streeting in Kensington, before he set out for some door-knocking in the afternoon.

Vargis said he's spent the past week or so fending off criticism of his party leader, Jack Layton, now a probable second-place finisher, while trying to advocate for his party's fiscal policy.

"I haven't seen people politically active in Alberta for all the time that I've lived here, actually. So it's good to see people suddenly concerned about the issues," he said.

Earlier in the day, Liberal candidate Stephen Randall went door-knocking with provincial Liberal leader David Swann.

Randall said his task this campaign has been to overcome the "Liberal party baggage," such as the National Energy Program, and to define the party as an option in the wake of an NDP surge in polls.

"We've worked very hard ... We've had very good organization here. We have people out door-knocking now. We've had people all week in here on all of our 10 lines, phoning constituents," he said.

Green party candidate Heather MacIntosh is banking on voters' wanting something different.

At a pancake breakfast in the parking lot of the North Hill Shopping Centre, MacIntosh poured organic syrup over cakes made with free-range eggs as she met with supporters.

"It's an open race," said Dale Voight, who lives in West Hillhurst. "I've never seen so many signs in our neighbourhood for the Greens."

As for MacIntosh, she planned on door-knocking with the Chinese community on Saturday and riding through her neighbourhood on Sunday in a decorated car alongside bicycles."We're busy, I'm excited. I'm a bit nervous. I feel like we're building momentum."

Calgary Herald, Mon May 2 2011
Byline: Laura Stone

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