A former federal Conservative cabinet minister from Alberta is back in the political game, hoping to take down the Liberal minister in charge of the nation's energy industry, in the heart of the country's oil patch.
Tim Uppal, who served as a minister of state in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet for almost four years, is nominated to run again in Edmonton Mill Woods, a riding Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi nabbed from him in 2015 by just 92 votes.
With the issues facing Alberta's economy, including a lack of pipeline capacity and low oil prices, Uppal said he felt drawn to jump back in.
"I've started to get excited about politics again," said Uppal, 44. "There's just a lot that needs to be done and I want to be part of that."
Alberta isn't exactly the biggest battleground in this fall's federal election — the Conservatives already have 29 of the 34 seats and it's really only the five seats they don't hold that are in play. The possibility exists for the Conservatives to wipe out the Liberals and NDP there completely. The possibility also exists that Maxime Bernier's new People's Party of Canada will play spoiler in some of those seats, taking enough votes from the Tories to help the Liberals or NDP survive.
Almost one-fifth of the new members signed up by Bernier's party thus far are in Alberta. Although support for the party is still generally pretty small nationally, there are some Tories who privately predict Bernier is likely to do best in Alberta.
The Liberals want to hang on to some Alberta seats, even in the face of oil industry economic doom and gloom. Just before Christmas they dispatched Sohi with a $1.6 billion aid package.
Uppal said one might expect $1.6 billion would always be welcome. Instead, he said, people saw it as desperation from the Liberals trying to save Sohi, Edmonton Centre MP Randy Boissonnault and Calgary Centre MP Kent Hehr.
The Liberals won two seats in Calgary in 2015, their first in that city since 1968, but both Hehr and Calgary Skyview MP Darshan Kang have since faced harassment allegations. Hehr lost his job in cabinet over his behaviour, for which he apologized a year ago, but he has been nominated to run for the Liberals again this fall. Kang left the Liberal caucus and allegations against him were later substantiated by a House of Commons investigation. He remains an independent and hasn't decided yet whether he will be on the ballot come October.
A senior Conservative told The Canadian Press on background last summer, before Bernier split from the Tories to form his new party, that Calgary Centre was the only Alberta seat the party was not expecting to take easily. He said the demographics have changed somewhat since the days the Tories slid to easy victories there and it may be the hardest seat to flip come October. It is one of just two seats in Alberta where the Conservatives haven't yet nominated a candidate.
The other is Edmonton Strathcona, which is wide open after lone New Democrat Linda Duncan decided not to seek re-election.
The Liberals see that seat as a potential pick up. Although they finished third there in 2015, the lack of an incumbent and the belief the NDP is weaker than in 2015, gives the party hope it can capture some of the NDP's vote. Liberal spokesman Braeden Caley said that riding was the first without a Liberal MP to hit all the party's required fundraising and membership targets.
He also said more than 10,000 new Liberals have registered with the party in Alberta in the last two years. Elections Canada data show the Conservatives consistently raise two or even three times as much money as the Liberals in Alberta, but in Edmonton, the Liberals raised more than the Tories in both the second and third quarter of 2018.
Sohi said Friday the party has confirmed he will be acclaimed as the Liberal candidate, having met the voter engagement and fundraising requirements to avoid a possible nomination challenge.
"It is a real honour to serve the constituents of Edmonton Mill Woods and Alberta and to work with Justin Trudeau and our Liberal team to grow our economy and strengthen our middle class," he said in a written statement.
But Sohi was handed a tough challenge as the minister in charge of the energy industry, at a time when that industry is facing significant challenges, the government's Trans Mountain pipeline endeavour is on the rocks, and the inability to get oil to markets led to a price crash last fall.
One Liberal went so far as to suggest that if the cabinet shuffle had come after the Federal Court of Appeal overturned cabinet approval for the pipeline, Sohi may never have been moved to natural resources at all.