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Trudeau’s ‘star power’ unlikely to nab seat for Liberals in Alberta byelection

The Conservatives are hoping to rally their traditional power base to retain hold on a sprawling southern Alberta federal riding that hasn’t elected a Liberal MP in 48 years.

Monday’s byelection in the riding of Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner was called after MP Jim Hillyer died of a heart attack earlier this year in his Parliament Hill office.

The riding, formerly known as Medicine Hat, was renamed following electoral redistribution in 2012.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the riding earlier this month in an effort to boost the chances of Liberal candidate Stan Sakamoto, a local businessman. Trudeau attracted about 2,500 people hoping to catch a glimpse of him.

A Calgary political scientist says the Liberals aren’t likely to win the election, despite the numbers Trudeau attracted in a province that went Conservative blue in all but five ridings in last fall’s federal election.

“He’s got that star power. No question. There’s a celebrity element in this. (People) want to see him and know a little more about him,” Lori Williams, from Mount Royal University, said of Trudeau.

Pretty steep margin to overcome

“(But) Hillyer won the riding with 67 per cent of the vote … The Liberals got 26 per cent, so that’s a pretty steep margin to overcome.”

Williams said the Liberals had more resources to pour into the campaign because it was a byelection. She also suggested the possibility of having a local MP at the cabinet table might influence some people to be open to change.

“For all those reasons, the Liberals have a greater chance than they would in a general election, but it’s still a long shot.”

The last MP Medicine Hat voters elected who wasn’t from a right-of-centre party was Bud Olson. He was originally voted in as a member of the Social Credit, crossed to the Liberals and was re-elected when the party swept to power under Pierre Trudeau in 1968.

Right-wing riding since 1972

Olson lost in 1972, and the riding has been on the right of the political spectrum ever since with MPs from the Progressive Conservatives, Reform, Canadian Alliance or Conservative parties.

Conservative candidate Glen Motz isn’t taking anything for granted.

“It’s not over until the last vote is counted. Our team has had the mentality and the work ethic that we are in last place … and we are working with that in mind until the polls close,” said Motz, 58, a retired Medicine Hat police officer.

He said Trudeau’s visit to Medicine Hat motivated a number of Conservative voters angry over job losses and the economic downturn.

People are angry

“People here are frustrated. They’re angry. It was demonstrated when the prime minister was here. It mobilized a whole set of people who otherwise may have been apathetic. It’s mobilized them to action.”

Sakamoto, 66, acknowledged he voted for Progressive Conservative Bob Porter in the past, but said it was a vote for the man, not the party.

He said he remembers being a teenager when Pierre Trudeau visited Medicine Hat.

“He had a rally at that time with Bud Olson … I was caught up in that crowd and also his message of hope. I was inspired as a teenager and that was a very big event for us in Medicine Hat,” Sakamoto said.

“Our previous prime minister (Stephen Harper), who lives 2 ½ hours up the road, never appeared once here. Not once in 10 years and there’s a feeling that we are a forgotten corner. That kind of resonates.”

The four other candidates in the byelection are Bev Waege from the NDP, Rod Taylor with the Christian Heritage party, Libertarian Sheldon Johnston and Kayne Cooper of the Rhinoceros party.

Article source: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/trudeau-star-power-alberta-byelection-1.3817894?cmp=rss