Commentary: Calgary Centre could really shake things up with Locke

By Andrew CohenThey held an all-candidates meeting in the byelection in Calgary Centre the other day and all the candidates showed up. It’s the first time this has happened in a quirky campaign that is making headlines, and perhaps a little history, too.Actually, the story is that Joan Crockatt, the Conservative, finally agreed to debate her rivals, having declined to attend three previous forums. As a journalist (Crockatt was an editor at the Calgary Herald), her disdain for the process is particularly cynical.But her change of heart suggests she’s feeling the heat. The latest poll has Crockatt at 35 per cent. Harvey Locke, the Liberal, is at 30 per cent, within the margin of error. Even more surprising, Chris Turner of the Green Party has 25 per cent.The polls could be wrong, as they were in predicting the victory of Wildrose over the Progressive Conservatives in the provincial election last April. If they’re right, though, this is a horse-race in a riding that has only elected variations on conservative (Conservative, Progressive Conservative, Reform) since it was created in the 1960s. Realistically, it’s hard to imagine an upset on Nov. 26 in a province where the federal Conservatives were elected in 27 of 28 seats in 2011, and harder in the riding next to Calgary Southwest, which is held by Stephen Harper.Then again, upsets happen in byelections. Confident that electing a member of the opposition won’t bring down the government, voters are free to experiment — and sometimes do. This year, Calgary Centre might light up our political night.But to unseat the Conservatives, their party’s candidate has to be vulnerable. Crockatt is. A libertarian and a supporter of Wildrose, she is said to annoy voters who rejected Wildrose. In the last provincial election, the two ridings largely covered by Calgary Centre went Liberal and Progressive Conservative. The long-serving incumbent in Calgary Centre, Lee Richardson, showed his loyalties when he forced the byelection when he resigned the seat to work for Premier Alison Redford.A Conservative canvassing the other day was surprised by the “coolness” toward Crockatt expressed at the door. That may be because Crockatt (who has campaigned with the popular Jason Kenney, a supporter of Wildrose like many other of Alberta’s Conservatives) might not be the ideal fit for this moderate constituency. But she could probably overcome that were she not facing a formidable opponent.In Harvey Locke, she is. To say that he is a lawyer and a conservationist does not reflect Locke’s stature as one of Canada’s leading environmentalists. Born in Calgary, with roots in Banff, he did degrees in arts and law at the University of Calgary. He has played a leading role in environmental initiatives, as president of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and founder of the Yellowstone-to-Yukon Conservation Initiative, an ambitious bi-national wildlife corridor.Locke isn’t a novice in politics; he ran for the provincial legislature in 1989 and was for two years president of the Liberal Party of Alberta. He speaks fluent French and is married to a Quebecoise. He has lived in Ontario and Quebec, as well as the United States, giving him a broader view of things.What makes Locke extraordinary is his passion for the wilderness. A photographer and writer, he has been involved in efforts to expand Nahanni National Park as well as Waterton Lakes National Park.We met two years ago at a conference on the 125th anniversary of Banff National Park. We were on horses in early knee-high snow in the Rockies he knows so well. This is someone who thinks deeply about nature, education and citizenship, and how they fit together in a democracy. He is also unfazed when thrown from a horse, which he was.His campaign isn’t necessarily about protecting the wilderness (though that cause has resonance in Alberta). He speaks of public investment and urban renewal and other issues important to Calgary and Canada. He calls himself “fiscally prudent, socially progressive and environmentally responsible.” Running as Liberal in Calgary is either an act of daring — or folly.“We’re ready for an injection of political diversity in Calgary,” he says. “We can take a seat at the table in the rebuilding of the Liberal Party.”Were Locke to win in Calgary Centre, he would electrify a diminished institution that badly needs new blood from the West. He would bring a different sense of what it means to be Liberal. As its only member from Calgary, the first in the city in a generation, he would even allow the Liberals to call themselves a national party again, with seats in every province.Calgary Centre could elect another Conservative, who would take her place on the backbench, who won’t be in cabinet and won’t have much independence.Or, it could shake things up next week and elect Harvey Locke, an authentic voice in a party that needs his kind of achievement and imagination.— Andrew Cohen is a professor of journalism and international affairs at Carleton University.

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