In the battle between Danielle Smith and Alison Redford in Alberta’s provincial election, no riding is sacred – particularly not their own.
The Wildrose and Progressive Conservative leaders, respectively, have quickly held events in each other’s backyard since Alberta’s election campaign formally began Monday. That night, Ms. Smith was in Ms. Redford’s affluent riding of Calgary-Elbow for a campaign event. On Tuesday, Ms. Redford toured a series of businesses in Ms. Smith’s suburban and rural riding of Highwood, south of Calgary.
The early battle over Highwood, centred in the Calgary bedroom community of Okotoks, illustrates the tight race between the PCs and Wildrose. Ms. Redford’s PCs think they can defeat Ms. Smith – they hold it now, Ms. Smith hasn’t yet been elected as an MLA and she’s expected to spend much of the campaign on her duties as the Wildrose leader, not as a candidate.
“We are going to win Highwood,” Ms. Redford told cheering supporters at the local campaign office in Okotoks, where Ms. Smith herself held two events earlier in the day.
The PC candidate, John Barlow, is an associate newspaper publisher with deep ties and a lengthy record of community volunteering – all things he believes Ms. Smith can’t match.
“I think this really comes down to an election from Highwood of: Do you want a representative who has been here, has experienced this community?” said Mr. Barlow, a 40-year-old father of three. “Or do you want someone who thinks they know?”
Ms. Smith, however, is confident. Okotoks is the type of fast-growing suburb where Wildrose is expected to do well, and Mr. Barlow is also a new candidate, replacing a retiring MLA. During her stop there on Tuesday, Ms. Smith met with a young family who had switched their allegiance to Wildrose from Tory and then visited a local art gallery, whose owners also support her party.
She predicted she’d win the seat.
“I think people are very excited about the possibility of seeing change and seeing this as the first, and most important riding to be able to do that. If we win in Highwood, I think that we're really going to – however many seats Albertans give us – we're going to be able to have a strong influence in the legislature,” Ms. Smith said.
The PCs drew a strong crowd just before 5 p.m. to the Okotoks campaign office for Ms. Redford’s visit. “There’ll be a significant battle here, for sure,” said Kelly Rogers, 40, who came with his two children. He considered backing Wildrose but chose Mr. Barlow. “He’s local, he’s rooted here, knows our issues,” Mr. Rogers said.
Lee Ann Winder, 24, walked by and flashed a Danielle Smith button – she’s backing Wildrose, citing its defence of funding for religious home schooling as a factor. “The PCs aren’t doing the greatest job at the moment. Why not give someone else a try?”
Calgary-Elbow may be an uphill battle for Wildrose candidate James Cole, a chartered financial analyst tasked with trying to knock off Ms. Redford. The riding has a history of being a more centrist, red Tory enclave – it was long held by former premier Ralph Klein, then won by a Liberal in a by-election before Ms. Redford won a narrow battle in 2008 to claim it back. The Liberals have yet to nominate a candidate this time around.
The home-turf battle continues Wednesday, when Ms. Smith is scheduled to travel to Redwater, a city where Ms. Redford spent many years as a child and a riding held by her infrastructure minister, Jeff Johnson.
Ms. Redford will head up to Fort McMurray, where two ridings – one new, one where the incumbent won as a PC but has since joined Wildrose – are up for grabs.
The PC leader downplayed questions about her several stops in the riding of Highwood Tuesday.
“Those are constituencies that matter a lot to us. We have strong candidates,” Ms. Redford said. “We believe that, as I said earlier, every constituency matters in this province.”