The 2019 federal election officially began Wednesday and a number of local ridings are shaping up to be hotly contested this year when voters head to the polls on Oct. 21.
It’s been four years since Justin Trudeau’s Liberals wrangled power from the Conservative Harper government. In an election that saw the country move left, the majority of Alberta remained right, electing 29 out of a possible 34 Conservatives into the House of Commons.
In Edmonton, three ridings stick out as toss-ups in an otherwise expected sea of blue. Liberal candidates Amarjeet Sohi and Randy Boissonnault will look to defend their seats in Edmonton Mill Woods and Edmonton Centre, respectively, while Edmonton Strathcona appears to be a toss-up without NDP incumbent Linda Duncan running in 2019.
Duncan and the NDP won Edmonton Strathcona four years ago, garnering 44 per cent of eligible votes. This year she won’t be running, leaving the riding as a three-horse race, says MacEwan University associate professor of political science Chaldeans Mensah.
“Edmonton Strathcona is going to be a three-way fight in my view because of the strong progressive support in that riding. The NDP supporters have to come out to guarantee a victory in that riding, if they sit on their hands, then there’s a possibility of a surprise,” said Mensah.
This year the riding will be contested by Liberal candidate Eleanor Olszewski, Conservative candidate Sam Lilly and NDP candidate Heather McPherson. The Green Party will be represented by Michael Kalmanovitch and the newly formed People’s Party of Canada will have Ian Cameron running on their behalf.
“Heather MacPherson, the local candidate, by all accounts is well known in the NGO community, perhaps that local connection will help her,” said Mensah. “The Liberal candidate is also very interesting, if the NDP supporters are unhappy with (NDP Leader Jagmeet) Singh and they sit at home, they may likely to go to her. But let’s not forget that the riding has gone in the past to the Conservatives.”
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is scheduled to make a stop in the riding Thursday. Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt said he expects that to be Trudeau’s only stop in Alberta, highlighting the importance of the riding.
Edmonton Mill Woods
Both Mensah and Bratt expect Mill Woods to be a rerun of 2015, when Liberal candidate Amarjeet Sohi won the riding over former Conservative minister Tim Uppal by 92 votes.
Sohi went on to become a cabinet minister in the Trudeau government, spending time as the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities before taking on the natural resources portfolio. Bratt said Sohi will need to distance himself from his time as the natural resources minister as much as possible in order to get re-elected.
“What’s his record? Delaying Trans Mountain, not getting it built?” said Bratt.
Sohi said he can run on his record because he listens to his constituents and that he has spent 100 per cent of his time working to fix the “broken process” that delayed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
“What I pay attention to is what my constituents are saying to me,” said Sohi. “They are being open and frank and candid with me on a number of issues because I have been able to build a trust with them.”
Mensah and Bratt both believe Edmonton Centre will be a race between Liberal incumbent Randy Boissonnault and Conservative candidate James Cumming.
Boissonnault spent his time in office on a number of committees and serving as the special adviser to the Prime Minister on LGBTQ2 issues. Cummings is a life-long Edmontonian, previously working as the president and CEO of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce and the chairman of NAIT’s board of governors.
“Edmonton Centre is a swing riding. It’s gone Liberal and it’s gone Conservative in the past,” said Mensah. “Boissonnault won it last time with over a 1,000-vote difference so he is in a good position, but he has the Trudeau baggage around his neck. Given the difficulty that Trudeau has been for the Alberta energy sector, I think Boissonnault should campaign based on his own credentials.”
Mensah believes the riding could go to the candidate who can stop vote splitting on their side of the political spectrum.