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Letter from Alberta

In Alberta, a conservative rebellion in the Tory backyard Add to ...

Among the Harper Conservatives’ biggest threats in Alberta is one of their own – Independent candidate James Ford, who is once again riding a wave of populist discontent that nearly delivered his party an embarrassing rebuke three years ago.

Mr. Ford is running in the Tory stronghold of Edmonton-Sherwood Park, renewing his protest of the nomination of Tim Uppal as the local Conservative before the 2008 vote.

Mr. Uppal had previously lost two tight races in another riding, and before then won the nomination in Sherwood Park, a safer Conservative seat long held by outgoing MP Ken Epp. Mr. Uppal didn’t live in the riding at the time.

His nomination smacked of top-down party influence, and Mr. Ford – who has ties to the provincial Progressive Conservatives and the federal Conservatives – broke rank to become the face of a rebellion.

Voters rallied behind him with a fervour not typically seen in Independent campaigns. Mr. Ford captured a groundswell of support in the wealthy, suburban riding. He won most polls in the riding’s two major communities, Sherwood Park and Fort Saskatchewan, but lost badly in the sliver of northeast Edmonton that lies within the boundaries.

In total, he lost by 1,668 votes (about 3.4 per cent). This time around, he’s hoping to vanquish Mr. Uppal altogether.

“I just want him out of here. ... He isn’t part of our community. What can I tell you? I don’t know what he’s done for us,” Mr. Ford, 70, said in an interview.

Since the loss, Mr. Ford has run a small newsletter to keep the momentum going, aptly titled “The Sherwood Park Independent.” It includes ads from the two local PC MLAs, Iris Evans and Dave Quest, both of whom have avoided endorsing one side or another in the conservative brawl.

“It’s a bit difficult. Jim’s been a friend of mine for several years,” Mr. Quest acknowledged, on one hand. But on the other, he said: “Tim’s done a pretty good job – and, of course, he’s carrying the party banner.”

Mr. Uppal is growing tired of questions about his commitment to the community.

“I grew up eight minutes away from here, in Edmonton; my family owned an ice-cream store in Sherwood Park Mall; and I’ve been living here for four years,” he said, sighing.

“I worked hard for it,” he said of the nomination.

Mr. Uppal noted that he sat on a number of committees and successfully tabled and passed a private-member’s bill to create a Holocaust monument.

“I do fight for local issues because I have an actual seat at the table in the Harper government. … These are things an Independent can’t do,” Mr. Uppal said.

The battle is almost entirely symbolic. Mr. Ford said that, if elected, the chances he wouldn’t vote with the Conservatives are “virtually nil” and that he would likely accept an invitation to simply join caucus.

The symbolism of a Ford victory, however, would be strong – a rejection of a party-backed nominee by grassroots organizers in one of the country’s strongest Tory constituencies, where the brand alone may not be strong enough to earn a seat.

“We’re a pretty sophisticated riding,” Mr. Ford said. “We like to pick our own.”

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Follow on Twitter: @josh_wingrove

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