The conservative campaign and the challenge on the right

When Conservative isn't conservative enough for some.

Take Calgary Sheppard.

The southeast Calgary riding is a mix of low- and high-income earners, huge tracts of suburban housing and upscale lake communities, industrial land, manufacturing facilities and warehousing. It's also home to the corporate headquarters of giants Imperial Oil and Canadian Pacific. 

The Bow River frames the riding's western and southern boundaries, 17th Avenue S.E. forms the northern boundary, while Range Road 284 and 120th Street S.E. makes up the eastern edge. 

It's a diverse place with a diverse field of candidates. And two are running on the right.


Tom Kmiec is running for the Conservative Party. He's the incumbent, having steam-rolled to victory in 2015 with nearly 66 per cent of the votes cast. The second place Liberals picked up a quarter of the votes.

In this campaign, the 38-year-old Kmiec is facing challenges from the left — including a Liberal candidate who claimed Kmiec doesn't live in the riding (false, by the way), and from the right with the new People's Party of Canada, and a candidate fielded by a leader whom he used to support.

You see, in the Conservative party leadership race back in 2017, Tom Kmiec backed Maxime Bernier. He was the co-chair of Bernier's campaign in Alberta and helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in the province.

Bernier lost. Andrew Scheer won. And now Kmiec is running with Scheer as his party's leader.

"Well, obviously, I wasn't happy with it, but he [Scheer] has been a great leader so far," said Kmiec.

"He's really rallying the troops, he's united the party." 

But Kmiec now faces a new opponent in the suburban Calgary riding running for Bernier's People's Party of Canada. 

Threat from the right?

"The Conservative Party of Canada continues to move to the left," said Kyle Scott, a Calgary lawyer who is the PPC's candidate in Calgary Shepard.

Fiscally conservative and socially libertarian is how Scott describes the new party, which has been tracking in the low single digits in Alberta, according to the poll tracker.

Bryan Labby/CBC

One of the party's controversial policies has been a pledge to reduce the number of immigrants and refugees allowed into the country. 

"What we're seeing now is a whole bunch of 'economic' refugees saying, 'I can get a better job in Canada,'" Scott said. "That's not a reason to claim refugee status."

Along with fewer refugees, the party suggests cutting the number of immigrants allowed into Canada from 321,045 (the 2018 number) to between 100,000 and 150,000.

"We are not an anti-immigration party," Scott said.

"We believe it's an issue that should be openly debated."  

Scott, 55, says he is better suited to represent the riding because of his experience outside of politics as a lawyer representing energy and IT companies. He says Conservative candidate Kmiec was parachuted into the riding as a reward for his past service to the party, working as an assistant to federal and provincial conservative politicians.

Kmiec says that after working for Jason Kenney a number of years ago, he spent four years in the private sector. He says he became the Conservative party candidate in 2015 after a "competitive" nomination. 

"Mr. Scott needs to get his facts straight," Kmiec said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

Populism on the Prairies

The emergence of the PPC and the strong financial support Bernier received in Alberta fits in with the province's historic pattern of right-wing populist parties, according to a Calgary-based public opinion researcher.

John Santos says it reminds him of the Social Credit party, which governed Alberta from 1935 to 1971, and the Reform Party, which elected its first MP in 1989.  

"It's that populist right-wing message, they're not afraid to be further to the right than the Conservatives. And I think that's where they're picking up some support," said Santos.

Bryan Labby/CBC

"Some people who look at the Conservatives and are like, 'you know these guys aren't conservative enough,' or maybe [they] want to support a party that's going to pull the Conservatives further to the right," he said.

Santos points to the PPC's stance on climate change (Bernier isn't convinced it's related to human activities) and immigration.

Santos speculates it could be Bernier's position on climate change that is driving Albertans to support the PPC.

"I would suspect because of our connection to the fossil fuel industry here, it's probably Maxine Bernier's stance on dealing with climate change," he said. 

He says some conservative-minded voters will consider backing the PPC, but most likely in safe conservative ridings, i.e. almost all of Alberta. 

"When the race is guaranteed to be conservative, they might vote for a more right-wing option if their personal views are more right wing as a way to sort of signal to the Conservatives, 'hey if you move to the centre too much, you know there's going to be a lot of folks like me considering a right-wing alternative,'" he said.

"And we certainly saw that in 1993 when Albertans defected en masse from the Progressive Conservatives to the Reform Party," said Santos.

Planting seeds, growing the Green Party 

Both Kmiec and Scott face three candidates from the left.

The Liberal candidate in the riding is Del Arnold.

Arnold apologized after accusing Kmiec of living in Quebec, not Calgary. CBC News reached out to Arnold for this story multiple times but didn't hear back.

Bryan Labby/CBC

The two other candidates in Calgary Shepard are the NDP's David Smith and the Green party's Evelyn Tanaka. 

CBC reached out to Smith several times as well but didn't hear back.

But CBC did get ahold of the Green party candidate.

Tanaka was born and raised in Calgary and grew up in the riding. Her election brochures are actually small envelopes filled with wildflower seeds. It's a bit of a metaphor for her campaign and the Green Party movement, which wants to grow a grassroots base of support to address climate change. 


Tanaka says not everyone in oil and gas country wants to hear her party's message and, yes, a few doors have been slammed in her face.

"A few, but not very many," she said.

"People are worried about climate change … people are worried about jobs and oil and gas. And they really want to come together and find common ground on these issues," said Tanaka.

She wants to see more development of wind, solar and geothermal energy sources in Alberta and acknowledges the transition for employees away from the fossil fuel industry will be a challenge but not impossible.

"I used to work for an environmental sector council where I [helped] transition workers that were laid off in the auto industry in Ontario and move into environmental jobs," she said.

"It definitely takes some political will, it takes some money to help workers transition and make that change and get the skills that they need. But skilled workers are always needed in all industries, and there's definitely lots of transferable skills between oil and gas to the solar industry or to wind or to geothermal," she said.

Climate, energy and jobs have emerged as major campaign issues for all candidates.

Jobs, pipelines

Kmiec says energy is something people are certainly talking to him about on the campaign trail.

"The things I hear at the doors are getting repeated all the time: jobs, pipelines. People are worried about the work that they do in the field that they're in, whether there's a future for their kids in the same field — science, technology, engineering, mathematics," he said.

Scott says a PPC government would not only support the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to B.C., but would also use the constitution if necessary to revive the Energy East project, a pipeline from Alberta to refineries in New Brunswick.

He says the PPC would declare the controversial pipeline in the national interest and be damned with provincial jurisdiction.

"Is there going to be protests? Yes. Is it going to be an issue?  Yes. But to continue to delay until you think everyone is going to be happy with it, you will never build that pipeline," said Scott.