"It's a different animal": History shows there are no sure bets in Calgary Centre

Sep 14 2021, 8:49 am

When it comes to the cookie-cutter pattern of federal politics in the Conservative heartland of Alberta, Calgary Centre is an anomaly.

The Tories often sweep much of Alberta, other than one seat in Edmonton, but a riding in Calgary’s downtown has elected members of Parliament from the Reform Party, Progressive Conservatives, Conservatives and, in 2015, the Liberals.

It’s notable that 21 years ago voters there elected former prime minister Joe Clark, after he came back to lead the Progressive Conservatives, over incumbent Reform/Canadian Alliance MP Eric Lowther in Calgary Centre.

Clark, whose campaign sign included his photo with the message “Not just another pretty face,'” received support from across the political spectrum.

“The progressive side of the party has always been important to a lot of people and Joe just reached out and was able to bring out the best of people and I think that was part of the magic that was him — a standup, ethical, moral guy,” said his former press secretary, Stacy Hatcher, who noted Clark knocked on a lot of doors when he wasn’t travelling during that campaign.

“I think it’s a riding that can’t be taken for granted — and that’s how Joe ran the campaign, too, in Calgary Centre, is: don’t take it for granted, never take the people for granted.”

When it comes to Alberta politics, one political scientist said Calgary Centre is one that’s not like the others.

“It’s a different animal than what you find elsewhere in Calgary,” explained David Taras of Calgary’s Mount Royal University.

“It looks like other places in Canada more than it looks like other places in Calgary. It’s the city centre, young population, it’s more transient. It’s kind of hipper. Suburban Calgary is a
different world. It’s a blue world.”

The 2016 census showed Calgary Centre was home to 119,176 people — and more than 53,000 of that number are between the ages of 20 and 44. The median age was 35.

In 2015, former member of Parliament Kent Hehr, along with Darshan Khan in Calgary Skyview, became the first Liberals elected in Calgary since 1968.

Hehr, who grew up in the riding and also represented parts of it provincially, said its demographic is similar to what you would see in Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal.

“There are different groups of people who are always changing and moving into the community. So many new Canadians who are starting out their journey in life in this country settle right here in Calgary Centre,” he said.

“It’s really a multicultural, diverse community that I think understands politics very well and tends to vote Conservative, but it has progressive leanings underpinning their values.”

The riding is currently held by Conservative Greg McLean. He is facing Jacob Cohen from the People’s Party of Canada, Juan Estevez from the NDP and Sabrina Grover from the Liberals in the election on September 20.

Former Conservative MP Joan Crockatt, who lost to Hehr by 750 votes in the 2015 election, said the riding is one of the few truly urban ridings that the party holds and likely has a high undecided vote.

“Are they hardcore committed to party? No they’re not. There are a lot of new people who have moved in here from all over the country, all over the world and they don’t know that Alberta is Conservative,” Crockatt said.

“Is there an opportunity in this riding? Yes, but you have to work for it. It’s not a slam dunk. You cannot mail it in.”

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