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New Conservative nominee seen as polarizing candidate in Calgary riding

Joan Crockatt considers herself ‘fiscally conservative,‘ concerned about the economy, energy and the environment.

Chris Bolin/The Globe and Mail

Joan Crockatt has the political equivalent of the golden ticket.

The Calgary newspaper editor turned policy pundit is the federal Conservative nominee in Calgary Centre, where Prime Minister Stephen Harper must call a by-election by Dec. 4. Ms. Crockatt recently managed to elbow out five other Tory hopefuls to secure the party's nomination in the downtown riding, which was vacated last spring by Lee Richardson, a popular red Tory who is now working for Alberta Premier Alison Redford.

For the Harper government, this is probably one of the safest seats in the country. But some observers are suggesting that Ms. Crockatt, who is perceived as too right wing and polarizing, might not coast quite so easily to Ottawa. Voters tend to use by-elections to send a message, and lately, Mr. Harper's popularity has taken some hits.

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"If you had a high-profile candidate with a good organization, Joan Crockatt is quite beatable in that riding, no question," said Keith Brownsey, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary. "But the opposition parties never rise to the challenge. The opposition parties are riven with faction and stupidity and simply cannot get it together to challenge the Conservative Party machine."

Several formal attempts by the left-leaning parties to mobilize behind a single candidate have failed. However, local pollster Brian Singh has mounted an Internet campaign – 1calgarycentre.com – to bring "progressive" voters together to back a single ABC candidate: anybody but Crockatt. It's a strategy that has worked before in the riding. In the 2000 federal election, as the former Canadian Alliance was steamrolling across the city, voters united behind Joe Clark to lead the Progressive Conservatives to victory and block an Alliance sweep.

Ms. Crockatt, 56, said she isn't taking voters for granted, but she also isn't too worried about the ABC strategy.

"I think that they conveniently forget that Joe Clark was a conservative," she said. "He was a conservative prime minister of Canada."

Ms. Crockatt considers herself "fiscally conservative," concerned about the economy, energy and the environment. As a television commentator and former managing editor of the Calgary Herald, she is a familiar face.

She won the Tory nomination on the fourth ballot, but some party faithful were upset with the process, which allowed her to become the candidate even though she did not have the required six-months membership. Riding president Glenn Solomon said Ms. Crockatt had a "valid" reason, because she needed to be independent of political ties in her previous job.

The riding is home to many young, urban, liberally minded professionals, and has about 90,000 eligible voters. While parts of the riding have gone Liberal provincially, the city has a long history of swinging right federally. Calgary last elected a Liberal MP in 1968.

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Doreen Barrie, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, said Ms. Crockatt is a high-profile, personable and articulate candidate who mounted an impressive campaign.

However, Catherine Ford, a former editor and columnist at the Calgary Herald, described Ms. Crockatt as a "drive-by editor" (someone who makes significant changes in stories without consulting the writer) and cited her as one of the main reasons workers went on a union drive in 1999 and ended up in long strike.

"I have seen this woman at work," Ms. Ford said. "I do not trust her. I would not trust and I will not in any circumstances vote for her."

Ms. Crockatt's eyes well when those criticisms are put to her. She shrugs off complaints about editing: "That's what editors do." And of the strike: "It was a difficult time."

Conservationist and lawyer Harvey Locke, teacher Rahim Sajan and disenfranchised Conservative Steve Turner want to win the Liberal nomination on Sept. 22. Author and journalist Chris Turner was confirmed on Wednesday as the Green Party candidate. The NDP hasn't set a nomination date, but has one potential entrant.

A recent poll found that 44 per cent of voters backed the Conservatives, with the Liberals a distant second and the NDP and Green further back battling for third. The underdogs see the numbers as positive.

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"We believe there's a progressive vote we can get ourselves," said Arthur McComish, president of the Calgary Centre Liberal riding association.

Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, said there's only a "pretty minute" chance Ms. Crockatt will lose: "The question shouldn't be is she going to win, it's what role is she going to play."

Mr. Harper already has a caucus filled with Tories from Calgary.

"If I'm a backbench MP, I'm just fine doing that," Ms. Crockatt said. "To me, the job is to support the Prime Minister in whatever way that he thinks."

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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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