September 17, 2015 / 1:03 PM / 2 years ago

Support for Canada PM solid in home district, but voters restless

3 Min Read

Conservative leader and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during a campaign event at a factory in Stittsville, Ontario September 13, 2015.Chris Wattie

CALGARY (Reuters) - His signs are getting vandalized and some long-time supporters plan to switch their votes but Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper should handily win his own seat, despite a restless electorate, in an election that pits him against a country singer and a 34-year-old doctor in their first campaigns.

Support for the Conservative leader's aging government is far from universal among voters in his own Calgary-area riding, or district.

A Reuters straw poll of residents of the Calgary Heritage riding, an affluent suburb of Alberta's oil capital, echo wider themes emerging across Canada: a desire for fresh ideas and new faces.

Across Calgary Heritage's green lawns, vandals have targeted the blue signs of the prime minister, 56, and voters have voiced fatigue with a nine-year-old government seeking a fourth consecutive electoral victory.

"We think he (Harper) is actually tired of governing," said Tracey Wood, 53, a small business owner who voted Conservative in 2011 but plans to switch allegiance on Oct. 19.

Information technology manager Scott Isaacs, 49, a lifelong Conservative, wants "anyone but Harper" in power after the election, and sees a sense of entitlement similar to that of the provincial Conservatives, whose government was swept from power in May after 44 years of rule.

Harper takes center stage in Calgary on Thursday for the second leaders' debate, amid high expectations for a campaign turnaround.

The Calgary Heritage district was created in 2012 and closely resembles Calgary Southwest, the riding Harper held since 2002. While he won Calgary Southwest with 75 percent of the vote, projections from poll tracker threehundredeight.com show support ebbing to 62.9 percent this time.

The riding was once dominated by older retired voters but has been getting younger and more diverse - not the natural audience for Harper's brand of pragmatic politics.

But the economist-turned-politician still has support. Jack McDowell, 81, a retired oil worker, and Paul Thompson, 75, a retired consultant, both said he had done a good job on the economy and foreign policy.

They concede that disillusionment is on the rise. The Conservatives are tied in national polls with the Liberals and New Democratic Party (NDP).

"It's not so much pro-NDP or Pro-Liberal, it's just people believe maybe it's time Stephen should not quite have the same majority he has had in recent years," Thompson said.

Alternatives to Harper would require a big change in voter mindset. While the left-leaning NDP is the official federal opposition and, since May, the provincial government, the local candidate is a 39-year-old country singer running his first campaign.

Matt Masters Burgener said 25 percent of the roughly 80,000 electors in the district are under 35 and eager for change, and he thinks he has a chance to unseat his veteran opponent.

But the centrist Liberal candidate, family doctor Brendan Miles, 34, admitted his rookie campaign was "an uphill battle."

Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe

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