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NDP Leader Jack Layton greets supporters at a campaign stop in Edmonton on March 26, 2011. (Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
NDP Leader Jack Layton greets supporters at a campaign stop in Edmonton on March 26, 2011. (Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Letter from Alberta

NDP girds for 'battle royal' as Tories aim to sweep Alberta Add to ...

Stephen Harper's Conservatives will, of course, win the vast majority of Alberta. But can they win it all?

Tight races are already under way in two, possibly three, of the 28 ridings in the province.

The biggest prize for the Tories would be Edmonton-Strathcona, held by New Democrat Linda Duncan.

The riding is something of a two-headed monster: It takes its name from a central Edmonton neighbourhood with a strong arts community and centre-left leanings provincially, but stretches into conservative, suburban east Edmonton.

Ms. Duncan is facing a challenge from Conservative Ryan Hastman, who in many ways already acts the role - he attends ceremonies with Conservative MPs and has been campaigning full-time since 2009.

The Liberals, meanwhile, aren't giving Ms. Duncan an easy ride. "We'll be fighting as hard in Edmonton-Strathcona as we will in any other riding," said Debby Carlson, who handles election preparation for the Liberals in Alberta.

All told, a good fight is brewing.

"Of course it will be a battle royal. I've been prepared for that since the day I was elected," shrugs Ms. Duncan, who won a slim victory over Conservative Rahim Jaffer in 2008. "People say it's an anomaly I got elected. I said what's really bizarre is we had a Conservative in that seat for so long."

In an interview, Mr. Hastman stayed on message when speaking about his focal points: crime, jobs and responsible development of the oil sands (the unfettered state of which Ms. Duncan frequently criticizes).

"We're looking for a broad swath of mainstream voters who feel underserved by their current MP," he said.

The two candidates' policies have little or no middle ground, and both acknowledge the race will boil down to who can drive their base to the polls.

The second seat in play is Edmonton-Sherwood Park, a deeply conservative riding that spans both rural terrain and suburb. The problem, however, is there are two conservative candidates.

Veteran conservative organizer James Ford ran as an Independent in 2008 to protest the Conservatives' nomination of Tim Uppal, who many believe was parachuted into the safe riding.

A grassroots revolt took hold, and Mr. Uppal beat Mr. Ford by just a slim 3.5 per cent. Both plan to run again.

"It was a flawed nomination, so I'm still carrying on with the crusade. I want him out of here," Mr. Ford said.

The battle is something of a moot point; if Mr. Ford wins, he admits, he would likely vote with the Conservatives.

One final riding could slip into a horse race: Edmonton Centre, which was held for years by former deputy prime minister and Liberal Anne McLellan.

Conservative Laurie Hawn unseated Ms. McLellan in 2006, and easily held the riding in 2008. This time around, Mr. Hawn will be challenged by Ms. McLellan's former deputy chief of staff, Mary MacDonald - a lawyer who has spent two years campaigning in the riding.

If the Conservatives can sweep the three, they'll likely take all of Alberta, as they did in 2006. If not, Ms. Duncan hopes to expand her one-member Alberta opposition caucus.

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