Calgary by-election proving thorny for Canada's Harper

Thu Nov 22, 2012 6:18pm EST
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By Jeffrey Jones

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - A hotly contested by-election in Canada's oil capital is proving troublesome for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government as other parties chip away at support in a region his Conservatives have long taken for granted.

The result in the Calgary Centre voting district will not alter the balance of power in Ottawa, where the government has a comfortable majority. But it is highlighting how views in urban Alberta are diversifying as more people from across the country relocate to take advantage of a robust economy.

A loss in Monday's vote could force the Harper Conservatives to rethink strategy in the next federal election in 2015 after years of focusing efforts on other parts of Canada where results have been far less certain.

The campaign, where the Conservatives and Liberals are running first and second, is the highest-profile referendum yet of the Harper government's policies since it won its majority in 2011, thanks in part to taking every seat in Alberta but one.

A victory by Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt would show the Liberals and New Democrats, which are the official opposition, can not fight the Conservatives and each other, said David Taras, political scientist at Mount Royal University.

"But if the Liberal wins, it's going to break the psychological sonic barrier in Calgary. A Liberal hasn't won here in 45 years and it would give the Liberals a tremendous psychological boost," Taras said.

"It would also worry the Tories. This is home-field advantage for the Conservatives, the back yard. They take it for granted," he said.

Several national issues are playing out in the district of 125,000 people in a city of 1.1 million that serves as headquarters for the nation's energy sector.   Continued...

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa November 22, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Wattie