CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Two electoral districts in the traditional Conservative fortress of Calgary are showing vulnerability, a crack that could signal wider losses for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's nine-year-old government.
The potential loss of two seats in Harper's adopted hometown and Canada's energy capital, where no left-leaning candidate has won a federal race since 1968, suggests urban Alberta can no longer be taken for granted by the right-of-center party.
Harper's Conservatives are expected to win most of Alberta's 34 seats in the Oct. 19 vote, which polls indicate is too close to call nationally. But any Calgary losses would echo the shift seen in Alberta's provincial election in May, when voters dumped the Conservatives after 44 years of rule for the left-leaning New Democrats.
Liberal Matt Grant is a hair ahead in the newly created riding of Calgary Confederation, while fellow Liberal Kent Hehr is showing greater strength than usual for his party in inner-city Calgary Centre, polls show.
"Calgary used to be the afterthought of the campaign. No one campaigned," said Mount Royal University professor Duane Bratt. "Now there are seats in play."
With its oil industry roots, Calgary had always been a lock for Conservatives. But the election of Naheed Nenshi as the first Muslim mayor of a major North American city in 2010 suggested the electorate was shifting.
Grant, a corporate finance lawyer running for office for the first time, hopes to tap into that progressive element and fatigue with the incumbent government. One poll showed him with 38 percent support, compared with 37 percent for Conservative rival Len Webber.
"The big thing the NDP provincial government showed is that change is possible," Grant said.
In Calgary Centre, incumbent Conservative Joan Crockatt has an eight-point lead over Hehr, a lawyer and former provincial politician, according to one poll.
Harper appeared at a recent Crockatt rally to lend support, and Crockatt hopes voters will be put off the Liberals by leader Justin Trudeau's lack of support for some oil pipelines.
But even some prominent energy industry players are unsure whether they will support the Conservatives.
Brett Wilson, a co-founder of FirstEnergy Capital Corp, said he would put up signs for both Crockatt and Hehr on his property and was undecided whom to vote for.
"In the west we've had some ridings that are a given and I hate that in any part of the country," Wilson said.
Additional reporting by Mike De Souza; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Leslie Adler