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In Calgary byelection, could Tories lose?

Former journalist Joan Crockatt

Chris Bolin Photography/The Globe and Mail

Not too long ago, the only question facing federal Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt was what kind or role she could expect in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's caucus once she bypassed the formality of being elected in an upcoming Calgary by-election.

But now people are seriously wondering: Can she lose?

Ms. Crockatt, once considered a shoo-in to win Calgary Centre on Nov. 26, has been called out by the popular city mayor Naheed Nenshi for shunning debates, and she now has both the Liberal and Green party candidates nipping at her heels, if mid-campaign polls are to be believed.

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A poll released Sunday by Forum Research in Calgary Centre found 35 per cent in the riding plan to vote for Ms. Crockatt, while Liberal Harvey Locke had 30-per-cent support, the Green Party's Chris Turner, 25 per cent, and the NDP's Dan Meades, 8 per cent. Those numbers have not changed, given the margin of error of five percentage points, since a similar poll for a week ago.

But it's a 13-point drop for Ms. Crockatt, who stood at 48-per-cent support in a similar poll conducted a few weeks earlier.

"These findings show us the Conservatives are in real trouble in Calgary Centre, as safe a riding as exists," said Lorne Bozinoff, president of Forum Research.

The poll results are buoying the hopes of the candidates who aspire to unseat the Tories in their political power base. Since 1968, the riding has elected right-wing candidates federally.

"It confirms that we've got the momentum now," Mr. Turner said Sunday evening. "I know for sure we can win it. This is the most vulnerable Conservative campaign in Calgary in decades."

Mr. Locke said the seat is his to take. "We know this is a two-horse race between me and the Conservatives, because I'm the only person who can catch her," he said.

Ms. Crockatt is a former newspaper editor and television personality, and a fiscal conservative. In this by-election, she has been under fire for not participating in debates, but attended her first on Saturday. During that forum, all four main candidates were well-received on a number of issues ranging from transit to the economy, including the proposed multibillion-dollar takeover of Calgary's Nexen Inc. by China's state-owned CNOOC Ltd.

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But as the front-runner, Ms. Crockatt was the main target of her opponents while answering questions from the audience. On Sunday, she failed to turn out for Mr. Neshi's Cities Matter debate.

Ms. Crockatt's campaign is focused on knocking on doors to meet voters.

"What we are seeing at the doors versus what's been written or Tweeted are very different," said Patrick Walsh, who is working on the Tory campaign.

Ms. Crockatt did not return calls on Sunday.

Mr. Locke, an environmentalist and lawyer, compares himself to Mr. Nenshi and Alberta Premier Alison Redford – both underdogs who defied the odds and smashed stereotypes.

"If we elect a Liberal from Calgary Centre, we'll send quite a message to the rest of the country," he said. "I really believe this is our time and we can make history together."

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Mr. Locke has run before provincially, coming within fewer than 500 votes of winning in the riding of Calgary Foothills when he ran for the Alberta Liberals in 1989.

For all his optimism, Mr. Locke, like the other left-leaning candidates, suffers from the potential for vote-splitting. Early on there were various overtures to field a single candidate to run against the Tories, but what eventually emerged was an independent online campaign dubbed 1calgarycentre.com designed to urge voters to coalesce around the best "progressive" candidate, whose name will be revealed on Thursday So far, nobody is willing to play kingmaker and drop out.

Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said any more missteps by Ms. Crockatt could seriously hurt the Tories, but she benefits from having so many competitors chasing the same set of votes.

"I think she'll win, but the potential of her losing is rising," Prof. Bratt said. "What will save her is the fight between Locke and Turner and Meades."

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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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