The Harper Conservatives face a battle in the party’s heartland as a redrawn Alberta electoral map has left incumbent MPs eyeing runs for the same nominations.
Two incumbents, LaVar Payne and Jim Hillyer, have publicly pledged to square off in one of the new ridings. In Edmonton, MPs James Rajotte, Blaine Calkins and Mike Lake all saw part of their ridings lumped into a single new one, Edmonton-Wetaskiwin. Sources say they are all privately interested in representing it, potentially triggering a nomination fight and leaving other ridings with no incumbent.
Another long-time MP, Leon Benoit, has essentially seen his riding swallowed up, leaving him little option but to run elsewhere, challenge a fellow MP or retire. Independent MP Peter Goldring also would like to run for the Conservatives in one of the new ridings.
Despite all this, some MPs say they are confident backroom deals will be struck, possibly at the party’s urging, to prevent bitter battles. While some parties protect incumbents, Conservative policy is that any MP can be challenged for a nomination. The party declined to comment.
A decade ago, “redistribution” – redrawing of riding boundaries to reflect population changes – led to former Liberal cabinet ministers Sheila Copps and Steve Mahoney being ousted in nomination battles. “It really caused a lot of heartache inside the Liberal Party, in my view,” Mr. Mahoney said. (Ms. Copps said her nomination race was rigged to force her out, and would have happened anyway.)
Independent electoral commissions are redrawing Canada’s electoral map. Alberta’s commission wrapped up its work last month, and the ridings, while requiring formal approval, are likely “set in stone,” an Elections Canada spokesperson said.
After the new map was released, Mr. Hillyer, representing Lethbridge, said he would run in nearby Medicine Hat, currently represented by Mr. Payne. The new Medicine Hat riding includes Raymond, where Mr. Hillyer lives, and Cardston, which a fellow MP said is the base of much of Mr. Hillyer’s political support. “It has always been my practice to represent the people with whom I live, my friends and my neighbours,” Mr. Hillyer, who declined an interview, said in announcing his intent.
The declaration caught his fellow MP off-guard.
“I was planning on running anyway. I guess I was a bit surprised. The boundaries are barely announced, and then he’s making an announcement,” Mr. Payne said.
Edmonton’s map has been heavily redrawn, including the creation of a sprawling new district called Edmonton-Wetaskiwin. Mr. Rajotte, Mr. Calkins and Mr. Lake all declined to say what riding they plan to run in. “I continue to be very happy representing the people of Edmonton-Leduc, and haven’t made any decisions yet about which constituency I may run in,” Mr. Rajotte said.
Mr. Goldring had hinted at retirement, and left the Conservative caucus as he fights a charge of refusing to provide a breath sample. He now hopes to rejoin the Conservatives, seek another term in one of three new ridings and push to overhaul Canada’s impaired driving laws.
“Quite frankly, one of the reasons I would want to [run is to] spend some time to work with our justice department and work with our police departments to prevent this from happening to other people,” Mr. Goldring said.
Redistribution in Calgary is less fraught. There are no ridings where incumbents appear set for a fight, although some could face challenges from outsiders. Outspoken MP Rob Anders recently warned that anti-abortion candidates, including himself, may face challenges. “I prepare just in case,” Mr. Anders said.
The new maps also include the addition of 15 new seats in Ontario, six in Alberta, six in British Columbia and three in Quebec. Of those, only Alberta’s map is done, but battles are already brewing, particularly in the Greater Toronto Area, a growing region that is essential to Conservative fortunes.
Mississauga MP Eve Adams plans to move to a new riding, Oakville North-Burlington, and run there rather than the redrawn Mississauga riding, which no longer includes her home. “I believe strongly in running in the area you live in,” she said in an interview. There are “challenges” with redrawn ridings in the GTA, she said. “There is some change that will be brought about by the riding redistribution,” she said.
Saskatchewan’s electoral commission appears set to do away with hybrid rural-urban ridings. The rural bases of MPs in three such ridings near Saskatoon – Kelly Block, Maurice Vellacott and Brad Trost – were essentially rolled into one. The Conservatives opposed the change, commissioning telephone polls that eventually led to a fine.
Mr. Trost, another outspoken anti-abortion MP, will seek the nomination in a new urban riding. The other two, who declined to say where they would like to run, have “discussions” in the offing, Mr. Trost added.
“I know there’s been talk, but I’m not going to speak on their behalf,” he said, later adding: “Yes, the Conservative Party is going to be affected [by redistribution] more than any other, but that’s natural – we have more seats.”