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Brad Trost, Conservative party candidate for Saskatoon-Humboldt, looks on at a candidate's forum at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, on Thursday, April 21, 2011. Trost told an anti-abortion group on the weekend that International Planned Parenthood Federation has been denied Canadian funding because it supports abortion, stirring up some controversy on the federal election campaign. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press/Liam Richards/The Canadian Press)
Brad Trost, Conservative party candidate for Saskatoon-Humboldt, looks on at a candidate's forum at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, on Thursday, April 21, 2011. Trost told an anti-abortion group on the weekend that International Planned Parenthood Federation has been denied Canadian funding because it supports abortion, stirring up some controversy on the federal election campaign. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press/Liam Richards/The Canadian Press)

In Saskatoon-Humboldt, the abortion debate is anything but over Add to ...

Considering the candidates, residents and its very design, Saskatoon-Humboldt is a riding where a culture clash seems inevitable.

It is half rural and half urban, reaching into what some call Saskatchewan's Bible Belt. It has been politically divided for years, and is still torn by debates over abortion and same-sex marriage.

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In Saskatoon-Humboldt, two visions of Saskatchewan collide.

The roster of candidates is no less complex. It includes Brad Trost, a Conservative who is opposed to abortion; Darren Hill, a gay Liberal city councillor; Independent Jim Pankiw, a former Reform and Canadian Alliance MP who has carried on a decade-long campaign against funding for first nations; the Green Party's Sandra Finley, whose high-profile court battle over her refusal to fill out the long-form census made headlines last year; and New Democrat Denise Kouri, the only French-speaking candidate in a riding with francophone communities.

It's the incumbent, Mr. Trost, who made waves earlier in the campaign for boasting how the Harper government had "de-funded" a program that funds abortions. While the remark raised eyebrows across the country, many in the riding agree with Mr. Trost's pro-life stance, mostly throughout the Bible Belt and a "trinity" of tiny religious communities: Prud'homme, Vonda and St. Denis, where an all-candidates forum was held this week. The questions were far-ranging: about the economy, the proroguing of Parliament, the NDP plan to cap credit-card interest rates - and of course abortion.

"Do you support a woman's right to choose for an abortionist to kill her unborn child?" Denise Hounjet-Roth, 53, a retired teacher and staunch Roman Catholic, asked the candidates.

Such sentiments are what have sent Mr. Trost, a 36-year-old geophysicist, to Ottawa. He won a narrow race in 2004, when just 435 votes separated the Conservative, New Democrat and Liberal candidates. Since then, he's won easily.

Naturally, his opponents are targeting his beliefs, saying the riding is filled with voters who are no longer stirred by questions of abortion and same-sex marriage.

"The comments have certainly made people sit up and think in the urban part of the riding," said Mr. Hill, 43, a Saskatoon city councillor who lives with his partner of 11 years and two teenage stepchildren. Mr. Hill's office lies just off Saskatoon's trendy Broadway Avenue strip. At a nearby diner, he's a local celebrity - a waitress scrawls "Vote Darren Hill" on a takeout container.

"You have to represent all of your constituents, not just those who agree with you and think the same as you," Mr. Hill said, adding: "I think anybody looking to highlight [social conservative issues]and put them front and centre is going to end up hurting the campaign."

The flaw, Mr. Kouri says, lies in the riding's design. All of Saskatoon is carved up into sections that are combined with rural swaths, rather than having strictly urban ridings. "People in Saskatoon don't feel they're represented at all. It's all social conservatism, and that's not what they want representing them," said Ms. Kouri, whose campaign was buoyed by NDP Leader Jack Layton's campaign stop Thursday.

However, Mr. Trost is not doctrinaire in the mould of Ms. Hounjet-Roth. His campaign literature ("propaganda," he jokes) focuses instead on the Conservatives' achievements for farmers, and his riding association president is pro-choice. He deftly fielded questions from constituents and is the race's clear front-runner.

He got into politics, he says, to work on economic issues facing rural Saskatchewan. He's never shied from his anti-abortion position and says it's his duty to represent it - despite the headaches it causes his party, which has repeatedly insisted the abortion debate won't be reopened. ("Even his own leader doesn't support him," Mr. Hill said.)

But in Saskatoon-Humboldt, that debate was never closed. It's part of the territory.

"I realize, because of what I've spoken out on, at least for a long time my public persona will be defined by this one issue," Mr. Trost said. "I'm comfortable with that. But it's a certain irony for a guy whose number one issue in Ottawa is economics, trade and those issues. But it is what it is …

"If the debate's not about abortion [locally] it's about whether to provide tubal ligation at the hospital. That's a little bit of a different culture than Toronto, Vancouver or Calgary. It's a different kind of riding."

Follow on Twitter: @josh_wingrove

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