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Calgary Centre Liberal candidate Kent Hehr participates in the 2015 Calgary Gay Pride Parade on Sunday.Chris Bolin/The Globe and Mail

It has never happened in his lifetime. And if it happens Oct. 19, it may very well happen to him.

Career politicians are rather rare as well as being rather suspect. Most never saw themselves seeking public office. But none, surely, was as unsuspecting as Kent Hehr, Liberal candidate for Calgary Centre and, at the moment, the politician seen as having the best chance at breaking the decades-long stronghold that conservative candidates have enjoyed in Calgary.

It was Oct. 3, 1991. He was 21 years old, born late in 1969, the year after the last Liberal, Pat Mahoney, grabbed a Calgary seat during that national mass hysteria known as "Trudeaumania."

Kent Hehr, having played junior hockey, was then a promising young defenceman for the Mount Royal College Cougars. Handsome, with dark wavy hair, he was a crowd favourite, a freewheeling puck carrier who describes himself as "[Hall-of-Famer] Paul Coffey with an edge. There was no penalty I didn't like to take."

Life could not have been better. He was popular. He had a good part-time job at Safeway. He was studying physical education and envisioned himself a high-school gym teacher, his life forever entwined with sport.

That evening he and some teammates went for a few beer after practice. They were at Electric Avenue, a popular, somewhat wild, bar. Driving back in the early hours of the morning, they stopped for a red light along Crowchild Trail SW.

Another car pulled up alongside, with the window down and something pointing at them.

Mr. Hehr, a passenger, has a recollection that he said something like, "That's not a gun, that's a water pistol." But then there was an extraordinarily loud explosion. The bullet entered his neck, severing the spinal cord.

"On Oct. 4, I woke up a C5 quadriplegic," he said matter-of-factly. "I didn't know who I was or what was going to be my life."

He was, he believes, the first victim of a drive-by shooting that most Canadians had ever heard of – a random act of violence with seemingly no motive apart from seeing what would happen if you fired a gun at a human. A troubled 21-year-old of no fixed address was eventually arrested in Vancouver, but the news brought no closure to the victim.

Mr. Hehr said it took a decade of struggle before he "got to an understanding that 'Kent, you can still contribute.'"

He had continued his studies, became a lawyer and was active in multiple associations dealing with accessibility. "I was always the kid who wanted to talk to people in the elevator," he laughed. It seemed whatever he got involved in, his enormous energies and enthusiasm had him becoming its chair and leading spokesperson.

In 2008, he ran for the Liberals in the provincial riding of Calgary-Buffalo and won. He became shadow minister for justice and his tough-on-crime stance, particularly involving gangs and gun violence, proved popular with police and the city core.

In 2010, Mr. Hehr briefly campaigned for mayor but withdrew in order to endorse his friend, Naheed Nenshi, who remains a popular and powerful mayor.

Mr. Hehr introduced a private member's bill into the legislature that would have public schools support students wishing to form gay-straight alliances. Eventually, a modified bill became law. But a year ago he became convinced that, under incoming premier Jim Prentice, the provincial Tories might "roll forever" in power.

"Where can I have an impact?" he asked himself. "We need to have at least one non-conservative Member of Parliament for this great city."

In late November, he was acclaimed as the Liberal Party's candidate for Calgary Centre.

Mr. Hehr's work in support of LGBTQ rights has gone over well in the riding, where what he calls the "Pride community" is large and influential. While Mr. Hehr was at the forefront of last weekend's Pride parade, the incumbent MP, Joan Crockatt, was told she wasn't welcome by the organizers after voting against legislation to prohibit discrimination because of gender identity.

Ms. Crockatt, the former managing editor of the Calgary Herald, won the seat in a 2012 by-election held to replace Tory stalwart Lee Richardson. Ms. Crockatt has her strong base of Conservative support, of course. She does not, however, enjoy the good relations Mr. Hehr has with Mr. Nenshi, and that could prove significant in what is certain to be a tight race. Mr. Nenshi's passionate attack this week on the Canadian government's tepid response to the Syrian refugee crisis has also hurt the Tory brand in the city they have so long owned.

The NDP, following Premier Rachel Notley's stunning victory in the May provincial election and with federal Leader Thomas Mulcair riding high in the polls, also believe Calgary Centre is ripe for the taking. Candidate Jillian Ratti, a physician, will certainly be challenging Mr. Hehr if there is, indeed, to be a changing of the guard after four decades of rock-solid conservative victories.

"Things are not working," said Mr. Hehr. "Many here have lost their jobs. Many have seen no increase in their standard of living. Renting and house sales have gone through the roof. People are not thinking this has been a halcyon decade for them.

"In Calgary Centre, we sense that we have become the non-Conservative alternative."

The NDP, of course, feels the same. And the decision is unknowable until Oct. 19.