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The Globe and Mail

In some Alberta ridings, election is far from a two-horse race

Alberta Party candidate Sue Huff cheers after Ron Picachy says she has his vote, while out door knocking in her Edmonton-Glenora riding.

Jason Franson/The Globe and Mail/Jason Franson/The Globe and Mail

Alberta's election has, in many ways, taken shape as a two-horse race, a choice between conservative or more conservative. But, in some ridings, it's not that simple.

As the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose Party battle on the right, three other parties are jockeying for position in the centre and on the left – the Liberals, New Democrats and the upstart Alberta Party.

It's rare for every party to mount robust campaigns in each riding, instead focusing efforts on their best bets. But, in Edmonton, five-way races have emerged, the latest sign of how quickly Alberta politics is changing.

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Such is the case in Edmonton-Glenora, a diverse riding tucked west of the city's downtown, home to some of the city's richest and poorer neighbourhoods alike. It traditionally bounces between the PCs and Liberals.

This time around, voters will pick between the incumbent PC cabinet minister, Heather Klimchuk; Bruce Miller, a Liberal who held the seat just four years ago; Ray Martin, a popular former provincial New Democratic leader attempting a political comeback; Don Koziak, a Wildrose candidate who once finished second in the race for mayor; and the former interim leader of the Alberta Party, Sue Huff.

"I'm anticipating it's going to be a photo finish," said Ms. Huff, whose Alberta Party is cast as a centrist, post-partisan alternative to the Liberals and NDP – the Wildrose of the left, but years behind in development.

Ms. Huff is one of the Alberta Party's best hopes for a seat. She's been campaigning for eight months in the riding, one of a handful the party expects to be competitive in. "People are very interested in change, they're open to change – but they don't quite know what that means yet," she said.

That desire for change makes ridings like Glenora more of a problem for PC Leader Alison Redford than for Danielle Smith, whose party is expected to be a contender for the first time. An urban riding with a progressive streak, Glenora isn't Wildrose's typical hotbed of support, but the Tories can't afford to lose swaths of Edmonton. With a five-way race, Wildrose could eke out a narrow win or, more likely, siphon away PC support and allow one of the other parties to win.

Ms. Redford has already held several events in Edmonton-Glenora during her campaign's first week, but dismissed questions about a five-way race.

"We have one really strong candidate running. We'll see on polling day how strong everyone else is," she said.

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Mr. Miller, for one, thinks Wildrose will hurt the PCs and allow him to win in a riding where fewer than 30 per cent of the total vote could win the seat.

"If people are inclined to vote against the current government, in Glenora the best bet is to vote Liberal," argues Mr. Miller, a reverend at a local church who served as an MLA from 2004 to 2008.

However, in the past federal election, the New Democrats finished ahead of the Liberals in this area and the NDP's Mr. Martin, with decades of politics under his belt, will be a formidable opponent.

"I think there's quite a bit of dissatisfaction with the [incumbent PC]government and worry about the future – and of course the main seniors issue is health care," Mr. Miller said.

There's a similar race in Edmonton-Rutherford, where incumbent Tory Health Minister Fred Horne is fighting for his seat against a Wildrose opponent that threatens his support, a Liberal he narrowly beat in 2008 and aggressive NDP and Alberta Party campaigns.

It, like Edmonton-Glenora, could be a close race, and not just between the top two.

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"They really are struggling with this vote – they're torn," said Ms. Huff, the Alberta Party candidate. "I think a lot of people are going to decide when they walk into that ballot box."

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