Canada Conservatives vulnerable in western heartland ahead of vote

Fri Sep 4, 2015 5:48am EDT
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By Rod Nickel and Nia Williams

WINNIPEG, Manitoba/CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - The Canadian Prairies, long a Conservative Party stronghold that has helped the party rule the country for nearly a decade, no longer looks to be an impenetrable fortress heading into an Oct. 19 election that could be decided by a few seats.

New electoral district boundaries, a left-wing breakthrough in Alberta, and retirements of popular local politicians leave the Conservatives vulnerable in some areas in a tight three-way national race against the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) and Liberal Party.

The party also faces growing voter discontent after nine years in power, exacerbated by job cuts in Alberta's oil industry and big provincial government revenue shortfalls in that province and Saskatchewan triggered by the global oil rout.

"It is a big challenge," said retiring Conservative legislator Joy Smith. "We call it the 10-year cycle. After 10 years people start saying, 'we need to look at things.'"

Not since 1980 has a Canadian prime minister won four terms, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper is attempting.

Robert Sopuck, a Conservative lawmaker who won his seat from Manitoba with a big margin in 2011 and is running for re-election, expects a tight race in his province.

"Nobody said this was going to be easy." polls analyst Eric Grenier projects that with current levels of support, the Conservatives would win 43 out of 62 Prairie districts, called ridings, with the NDP getting 12 and the Liberals winning seven. Nationally, 338 electoral single-seat districts are up for grabs.   Continued...

A combination of file photos shows (from L to R) New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Thomas Mulcair, Conservative Party leader and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau attending the Calgary Stampede in Calgary, Alberta July 3, 2015. REUTERS/Todd Korol/Files