Marlo Raynolds goes into every conversation assuming it will be recorded.
That is the upshot for the Banff-Airdrie Liberal candidate, who was the focus of a political storm last year when a Conservative supporter surreptitiously taped him in a private exchange about the federal government policy of income splitting.
Another man said it was him, not Mr. Raynolds, who commented that families benefiting from the program would spend the extra money on unnecessary cars and TVs, but Conservatives – including Blake Richards, now running in Banff-Airdrie for his third term as an MP – jumped on the story. They attacked Mr. Raynolds, a prominent environmentalist and businessman, saying his supposed remarks smacked of typical "arrogant Liberal sentiment."
Months later, in the final days of the campaign, coolness between Mr. Raynolds and Mr. Richards is apparent when they share a stage. But neither is talking about secret recordings now.
Federal Liberals – buoyed by national momentum for own party and the change to a provincial NDP government earlier this year – are looking to break into the Conservative heartland in Monday's election, likely through a few key ridings in Edmonton and Calgary.
But even the race in Banff-Airdrie, just outside Calgary, is proving to be harder to pin down than anyone could have predicted at the beginning of the campaign.
"I heard the clapping for the Liberal," Airdrie resident Scott Bennett, 67, said during a break at a debate earlier this month. A firm Conservative supporter, Mr. Bennett's mood was grim. He said he is worried about the NDP and Liberal spending promises.
"Justin Trudeau, I mean, he's just wavering all over the place. He's just promising so many things."
Banff-Airdrie is a sprawling new Southern Alberta constituency that includes Banff National Park, Cochrane, scenic mountain towns, farms, the acreages of oilmen and business owners, and the fast-growing Calgary commuter city of Airdrie. It encompasses much of the old riding of Wild Rose, but is smaller and slightly more urban.
Mr. Richards, 40, a real estate agent who has been named the hardest working MP by a Hill Times survey, won Wild Rose riding in 2011 with 75 per cent of the vote. A prominent judge running for the Liberals placed fourth.
Mr. Richards is a long-time Airdrie resident, and tells of being a young, single dad who "struggled to make ends meet" and worked the late shift at a Calgary meatpacking plant to get by. The former community hockey coach has walked the fine line between being responsive to constituent concerns and sticking to Conservative party talking points. Unlike other Conservative candidates, he has attended some election debates in recent weeks. He is expected to do well in Airdrie, a city that makes up half the population of the riding and votes for the right-leaning Wildrose Party in provincial races.
"There is no last time to compare to, obviously. It's a new riding," Mr. Richards said in an interview. But "what we're hearing from people at the doors, the response we're getting, seems to be quite similar."
Mr. Raynolds, 42, is the former executive director of the Pembina Institute, now an executive at BluEarth Renewables, an independent power producer. The Canmore resident, who has campaigned these past 20 months, is getting strong applause at debates and significant social-media traction. Small-c conservative towns such as Sundre, Caroline and Didsbury at the north end of the old Wild Rose riding – the stomping ground of former MP and social conservative Myron Thompson – have been chopped out of the new constituency.
And the national upswing in support for the Liberals could prevent vote-splitting among anti-Conservative forces – to the detriment of teacher and NDP candidate Joanne Boissonneault, and Green Party candidate Mike MacDonald.
"There is growing tiredness of the current government," said Mr. Raynolds, who has been focusing his door-knocking efforts on vote-rich Airdrie.
"Whether we'll hit that tipping point before Oct. 19 – only time will tell."
However, even Mr. Raynolds struggles to call it a competitive race, and the diversity of the riding makes it hard to tell what issues voters will be weighing when they cast their ballots. While Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise and other mountain tourist towns are enjoying the benefits of a low Canadian dollar that has spurred Canadians to stay home and Americans to visit, those living closer to Calgary are worried about low oil prices and their jobs in the energy sector.
Success for Liberals in Banff-Airdrie might be measured relatively.