By Fabian Mayer, October 13, 2015 —
It’s hard to overstate the futility Calgary Liberals have experienced at the federal level over the past five decades. Since Pat Mahoney’s 1968 win in Calgary-South, several dozen candidates have put their name on Calgary ballots for Canada’s historically most successful political party. All have lost.
The Liberals seem poised to change that losing streak this election. The new riding of Calgary Confederation is one of a handful where the Liberals have a chance to end their drought. In fact, it’s looking increasingly likely.
Candidate Matt Grant clearly knows being a Liberal in Calgary means the odds are stacked against him. He frequently boasts about starting his campaign two years ago and knocking on 100,000 doors. His campaign has been going a long time, and it shows.
That Grant has the best-organized campaign was evident within days of the writ drop on Aug. 2. Red lawn signs were up around Calgary Confederation by the first full weekend of the campaign.
NDP and Conservative signs only started appearing on lawns in significant numbers a couple of weeks into August. The lawn sign game is better for measuring a party’s campaign infrastructure than its levels of support, but Grant is still winning it.
He has also been among the most successful Liberal fundraisers in the country. Those funds are now being spent on advertising around the riding. Grant’s face adorns large posters in train stations and a billboard facing Crowchild trail. Commuters in the riding have a hard time getting to work without seeing the smiling face of their Liberal candidate.
By contrast, signs of Conservative candidate Len Webber’s campaign are conspicuously difficult to find. The former Progressive Conservative MLA and minister won the nomination for the riding all the way back in September of 2014.
While certainly the most experienced politician, an all-candidates’ forum at the University of Calgary did not show Webber to be the most effective speaker. He was less articulate than the other candidates and lacked a strong grasp of the issues. To be fair, student issues featured prominently in the debate, likely placing Webber, the oldest candidate, at a disadvantage.
While Grant knows he faces an uphill battle as a Liberal, Webber seems somewhat complacent as a Conservative candidate in Calgary. And when you look at Webber’s past election campaigns, he can be forgiven for being overconfident.
In each of his three Calgary-Foothills victories, Webber won with around 50 per cent of the vote. He has never been in the kind of competitive race developing in Calgary Confederation this election.
A riding level poll conducted in mid-September had Grant and Webber virtually tied with 38 and 37 per cent support respectively. The Liberals have gained momentum nationally since then, and Grant will likely benefit from that.
However, Webber’s Conservative Party are still the best at getting their voters out to the polls. Committed voters skew older and need less coaxing to cast a ballot.
This is where the Liberals’ local organizational strength will be key. If they can match the Conservatives’ get-out-the-vote effort, Calgary could send its first Liberal MP to Ottawa in nearly five decades.
Fabian Mayer is a fifth-year political science student at the University of Calgary. He writes a monthly column about Canadian politics called Last Past the Post.