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Nenshi's former campaign strategist propels another underdog into office

Alberta Progressive Conservative party leadership candidate Alison Redford enters the convention centre with campaign manager Stephen Carter before the results of the leadership race in Edmonton Oct. 1, 2011.


One could forgive Stephen Carter for walking with a bit of a swagger.

The 42-year-old campaign strategist from Calgary has scored back-to-back political wins. He helped bring long-shot candidate Naheed Nenshi, a Muslim university professor with no experience in political office, to the mayor's chair in Calgary a year ago, and early Sunday morning, his work helped elevate Alison Redford, a first-term Progressive Conservative MLA with scant support from the party's old boys network, to the premier's office.

Mr. Nenshi took to Twitter, a tool Mr. Carter employed heavily in both the mayoral campaign and the PC leadership race to mobilize support, to gently jab his former strategist.

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"There will be no living with [Mr. Carter]" Mr. Nenshi wrote, "Mind you, there's no living with him now."

Ms. Redford was locked in a horse race with perceived front-runner Gary Mar but the second choices of third-place finisher Doug Horner pushed her over the top. Mr. Carter is being touted as the miracle man with the Midas touch.

"It's not true," he insisted Sunday, "I've lost as many as I've won."

Mr. Carter, who is married to fellow public relations professional Heather McRae, and has two daughters, aged 13 and 10, has not escaped controversy.

In 2009, he was forced to apologize after making Twitter comments that some viewed as derogatory to Alberta premier Ed Stelmach's Ukrainian heritage. At the time, Mr. Carter was working for Danielle Smith's upstart right-wing Wildrose Party. But it was a short-lived dalliance with the party that poses the most serious threat to the long-governing Tories.

A week after the apology embarrassment, Mr. Carter left the Wildrose amid business woes that befell his company, Carter McRae Events, which he operated with his wife. A visit by the Dalai Lama and the Water Ski World Championships, which their company organized, ended with $700,000 in unpaid bills and threats of lawsuits.

Their company eventually went belly-up, but Mr. Carter came back with BBOLD Public Relations and re-emerged as a political thinker with his finger on the pulse of the province. He has a knack at picking winners and mobilizing support regardless of party lines.

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In 2000, Mr. Carter was among a group of strategists dubbed "the four horseman of the apocalypse" (Ms. Redford's transition team chairman, Calgary lawyer Robert Hawkes, also counted himself as one) who muscled former Progressive Conservative prime minister Joe Clark into a federal seat in Calgary-Centre, thereby preventing a sweep of the city by the now defunct Canadian Alliance Party. Mr. Carter recalled the pitch: "Liberals for Joe."

Behind closed doors, many in Calgary called Ms. Redford's bid for the leadership the "Stephen Carter for premier campaign." People said the same thing about Mr. Nenshi's stunning ascendancy.

For now, Mr. Carter has turned in his campaign cellphone and is coy about his next move.

"I'd like to have a job somewhere," he said with a laugh.

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About the Author
Dawn Walton

Dawn Walton has been based in Calgary for The Globe and Mail since 2000. Before leaving Toronto to head West, she won a National Newspaper Award and was twice nominated for the Michener Award for her work with the Report on Business. More

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