In Calgary Signal Hill riding, Oil and Gas fortunes are top of mind for many voters
As an outsider, he took down incumbent Rob Anders, the controversial federal Conservative MP who held his Calgary riding for almost 18 uninterrupted years.
Now, Ron Liepert finds himself in the position of front-runner in the west-end riding of Calgary Signal Hill — trying to retain a federal seat that has voted solidly for conservative parties for decades — but faces five challengers in the Oct. 19 election.
“We’re finding strong support, but that doesn’t happen to say we’re not working hard,” said Liepert.
Liepert is best known for his days at the Alberta legislature, serving in the Progressive Conservative government as education, health, energy and finance minister in the cabinets of premiers Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford, before spending three years in the private sector.
He’s now running for the federal Conservatives in a riding that runs south of the Bow River, west to the city limits and along Glenmore Trail. The riding’s income scale shows a solid upper-middle class presence, although with some pockets of poverty.
The riding ties with Calgary Centre for highest mean income, and nine per cent of its labour force works in the oil and gas sector — the highest in southern Alberta.
“The concerns about the oil and gas industry are top of mind for everyone but … almost everyone realizes there are limited things that government can do,” Liepert said.
NDP candidate Khalis Ahmed agrees the problems of the oil and gas industry come up often at the doorsteps, but he said the riding’s subsidized housing communities also need help.
“The rich communities don’t care about people living in poverty. That was the really sad part I discovered in the area,” the geologist said.
Ahmed studied in Norway, and said Canada could similarly use its oil wealth to bolster social programs. He said he’s seen starving children at some homes in the riding.
Liberal candidate Kerry Cundal said the federal government needs to renew funding in subsidized housing, with capital costs pledged years ago now running out, leaving little money for maintenance.
“We have a lot of different communities, some are worried how to make ends meet,” she said.
Cundal said a housing strategy could help ease a market that freezes out families during booms, and to repair aging public housing around the Westbrook and Wildwood areas.
And while voters in the area last voted Liberal in 1940, Cundal said she’s built up enough hope to put her job as a lawyer on hold.
“I think it’s a fighting chance. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible.”
Libertarian leader Tim Moen is running in the riding, and feels he can tap into the riding’s conservative roots.
“Our party is kind of like the Wildrose party but on the federal scene. We believe in a smaller, more accountable federal government with less spending, less taxes on individual Canadians and the protection of civil liberties.”
Moen contrasted his party’s stance with the Conservative government’s anti-terrorism Bill C-51, which Liepert forcefully supported at a debate last month.
“We live in a country where for too long those who were involved in criminal activities had too damn many rights,” Liepert said, prompting both applause and jeers.
Liepert’s also dealing with some backers of Anders — who held the riding previously known as Calgary West since 1997 and was defeated by Liepert for the party’s nomination last year — loudly throwing their support behind Moen.
Moen is campaigning on the issues he saw as a firefighter when Liepert’s provincial PC colleagues centralized health services, which Moen believes led to cost overruns and slower responses.
Green candidate Taryn Knorren says she’s hoping to tap into people who are sick of politics and help the Conservatives maintain their long hold on Calgary. She said the federal government needs to replace red tape with smarter procedures for industry and business.
“The Green party is not against the oilsands; we want to see proper regulation,” Knorren stressed.
Jesse Rau, who attracted publicity this year with his religious-based objection to driving a rainbow-coloured Pride city bus, is running as a Christian Heritage candidate.
“We are losing our freedoms ultimately, and we need politicians that have a backbone, that are willing to stand up against the status quo, willing to stand up against what’s popular if it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
“Otherwise we’re going to continue to lose our freedoms, starting with freedom of (conscience), freedom of belief, and that’s going to permeate into every aspect of society.”