Long considered a conservative fortress, Calgary has become ground zero for the final week of Alberta's election. The three main campaigns headed there on Tuesday as organizers say the 25 seats in Alberta's largest city are up for grabs.
With the New Democrats hoping for a historic sweep in Edmonton and the Wildrose party doing well in rural Alberta, Progressive Conservative Leader Jim Prentice has doubled down in Calgary. If the Tories are to remain in power, they will need to rally support. Recent polls have shown all three parties tied in the city. On early morning Calgary radio Tuesday, Mr. Prentice said Albertans have only two choices: PC or NDP.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says the election will be won in his city. "What's happening here is that the big tent of the Conservative party is starting to dissolve and people are looking at different options," he told The Globe and Mail. "The people are still pragmatic and they want good government at a decent price and that's not a Liberal, Conservative, New Democrat or Wildrose value."
Mr. Nenshi's come-from-behind win in 2010 was seen by many of Calgary's progressive voters as a win against the province's conservative establishment.
"This election will be won or lost by the 1.2 million people who live in Calgary," he said. "Calgary always was a battleground, just nobody noticed."
One Tory organizer told The Globe that Calgary will be the campaign's crucial battleground. Organizers with the NDP and Wildrose have said similar things.
The party is hoping it will be able to rally in the city given the business crowd's favourable view of Mr. Prentice. On Monday, the Calgary Chamber of Commerce said there was a "significant alignment" between its priorities and those of Mr. Prentice – however, it stopped short of endorsing any leader.
The NDP has not held a seat in Calgary since 1993. Led by Joe Ceci, a former alderman and star candidate, the party is betting on a breakthrough. The Wildrose finished a close second in a number of ridings in the 2012 election. With Mr. Jean staying clear of divisive social issues, the party is hoping to capitalize on the PC's lagging fortunes to sweep away a number of unpopular MLAs.
Beyond his political opponents, Mr. Prentice is facing a number of challenges. On Tuesday, the CBC released internal government e-mails showing that Alberta's Health Ministry was aware that government rules were being violated when sole-source contracts were signed with a consulting firm connected to senior Tories. Alberta's Auditor-General already investigated four sole-sourced contracts approved by former health minister Fred Horne in 2011 and 2012 and found little explanation for why the $220,000 worth of work didn't go to tender. E-mails obtained by the CBC through Freedom of Information legislation showed payments were rushed to Navigator on contracts that may have violated a number of department rules.
Randy Dawson, a senior executive with Navigator in Alberta, is on a leave of absence as he runs Mr. Prentice's re-election campaign. The PC Leader has said Navigator will no longer receive government contracts.
With a report from Allan Maki in Calgary