A city considered one of the cornerstones of the Canadian conservative movement solidified its reputation Monday, as the Tories swept Calgary despite falling short of ending the Liberal government’s rule.
McLean has spent 20 years working in finance, and is the director of a private oil-and-gas technology company. In the late '80s and early '90s, he worked for Conservative cabinet ministers on files like the privatization of portions of Via Rail and CN Rail, and the transfer of airports to local airport authorities. He and his wife have four sons.
With a lead in all 10 Calgary ridings, the Conservative party restored a stronghold that cracked four years ago.
Liberal Kent Hehr, the lone candidate seeking re-election for the Grits, was defeated in Calgary Centre by Conservative challenger Greg McLean, who earned more than 50 per cent of the vote in the riding.
Hehr, along with Darshan Kang in Calgary Skyview, ended a nearly 50-year shutout for the Liberal party in Calgary in 2015. Kang resigned from the Liberal caucus in 2017 following sexual harassment and assault allegations, completing his term as an Independent.
Other Conservative winners in Calgary include Nose Hill candidate Michelle Rempel, who has served as MP since 2011, along with Jasraj Singh Hallan in Forest Lawn, a seat previously held by the late Deepak Obhrai.
Rempel told supporters Monday night that voters along the campaign trail indicated Alberta’s economic woes should be a “ballot box question for the country.”
Conservative candidate Michelle Rempel is all smiles at her election headquarters at the Canadian Brewhouse in Harvest Hills on election night. Rempel was re-elected in Calgary Nose Hill on Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. Dean Pilling/Postmedia
“That is the mandate that our team needs to work on going forward — to get our community back to work, to stand up for our energy sector and energy sector jobs and to link that in with difficult questions of how Canada responds to climate change,” said Rempel.
“We also have to realize what we do here in this province is something to be proud of. It’s something that helps prosperity across the entire country. It’s something that displaces oil from other countries that do not have the same ethical standards, or democracy or environmental framework that our country does. This is not a debate that can go away tonight.”
“I was the name on the ballot, and at the end of the day, it’s my voters who didn’t send me back to Ottawa. So it’s a combination of things and ultimately, if you look at the work we did, I thought we had a chance to win it, but it wasn’t in the cards tonight,” Hehr said.
Hehr and Naidoo were seen as the Liberals’ best hope in Calgary, with Calgary Centre billed as the most competitive riding in the city leading up to election day.
About 150 Liberal supporters gathered at the Palace Theatre on election night, celebrating as television pundits projected a minority Parliament with the Liberals poised to lead it.
But that turned to disappointment as Hehr’s defeat was announced. He congratulated McLean after taking the stage, calling his opponent a “classy guy” who will do “an excellent job representing the good people of Calgary Centre.”
“In the truest sense of the word, I’ve enjoyed every second that I’ve been a public servant,” he said. “It has been the thrill of my life and I will always cherish it.”
Kent Hehr greets supporters at the Palace in Calgary on Monday, October 21, 2019. Darren Makowichuk / Postmedia
McLean thanked his family and supporters while speaking in front of a packed room at Wurst pub in Mission.
The MP-elect, who warned of a tight race in the final days of the campaign, said he was unsure he’d win. He also said challenges lay ahead for the Conservatives in opposition, but vowed to advocate for Calgary’s interests, something he said his opponent didn’t do.
Throughout the election campaign, experts predicted the Conservatives would maintain strong support in Calgary.
But for the most part, the campaign was battled outside Alberta, with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau only making brief stops in Calgary.
Scheer rallied supporters in Calgary Skyview in mid-September, with a speech promising to repeal the federal carbon tax and champion Canada’s energy sector, while Trudeau made it to the riding for a late-night Saturday rally on the final weekend of the campaign.
The Greens’ Elizabeth May and People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier also made stops in Alberta’s biggest city during the writ period.
Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams called the Calgary-wide defeat for Trudeau’s party “a testament to the unpopularity of the Liberals in this city.”
Hehr, in an emotional speech, conceded that it was a tough night to be a Liberal politician in Calgary, (and Alberta, which went all Conservative except for Edmonton Strathcona, which was won by the NDPs Heather McPherson).
“It’s not, obviously, a good result for Alberta, both because Alberta is looking like it’s not going to be represented at the cabinet table, but Alberta’s representation in government is going to be more limited,” she said.
"The voters of Calgary Centre voted for change in our riding," Hehr said. "A tough election loss, but I know (Conservative MP) Greg (McLean) is going to do a super job as the MP for Calgary Centre."
The lack of focus on Alberta throughout the campaign — from limited discussion surrounding pipelines and the province’s economy — didn’t come as a surprise, she said.
“The numbers in Alberta are such that it only composes about 10 per cent of the seats in the House. By itself, the issues in Alberta aren’t going to add much weight federally,” said Williams.
“We’re in a slightly different landscape in this election for sure . . . where we have really quite different regional concerns. Many places in Canada are doing well economically and Alberta isn’t and so other issues besides the economy took precedent.”
Prior to 2015, Calgary had not elected a Liberal since 1968, when Pierre Trudeau led the party in his first campaign as leader.
The party held about 15 per cent of the popular vote across the Calgary area on Monday, while about 70 per cent of voters in the region cast a ballot for the Conservatives.
Without representation in cabinet, it will take “creative leadership” to ensure Calgary’s interests play a role in the federal conversation, according to Williams. That role will likely fall to local Conservative MPs, but also to both Premier Jason Kenney and Opposition leader Rachel Notley, said Williams.
“I think they’ve got to work very hard on how to reach out to other Canadians outside the province and in the federal government to try and advance Alberta’s interests in a constructive way,” she said.