It's not just the name of a popular Family Guy character (a name that my friends who witnessed my behaviour in the mid-to-late 90's claim is a perfect nick-name for me - not sure why...), it's also a perfect description of Calgary Montrose. Municipally and provincially, when election time comes around this riding goes absolutely off-the-reservation crazy.
Ward 10 Alderman scandal? Here.
Michael O'Malley, the former Catholic School trustee who sued the board while sitting on it? Here.
The PC Party of Alberta winning a lawsuit against its own constituency board? Here.
Human rights complaints, on the flimsy basis of "Christophobia" (the alleged Christophobes in question - Christians.)? Here.
For 14 years the home of the man many consider to be one of the least effective MLA's in recent memory, Montrose has 2 "nevers" in its history: It has NEVER elected an MLA who wasn't a Tory. And, it has NEVER had voter turn-out of more than 50%. This riding will be had by whomever runs the best (or dirtiest) campaign, and (more importantly) by the candidate who runs the best Get Out The Vote operation on March 3rd. There are already allegations of impropriety being thrown around all over the place, and we're still a week from voting.
Manmeet Bhullar (PC)
Michael Embaie (Lib)
Al Brown (NDP)
Said Abdulbaki (WAP)
Fred Clemens (Grn)
Ron Leech (Ind.)
Manmeet Bhullar has 2 biographies, depending on who you ask. If you ask a PC supporter, they'll tell you that he has served as a senior member of national campaigns (which would have put him at ages 23 or 25 at the time, being only 27 now) and is in his second year of Law school after obtaining a Bachelor of Arts (Sociology) from Athabasca University. They'll tell you he led campaigns that raised over $50,000 for the Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank, and almost $100,000 for the Calgary Health Region. They'll tell you he has advised Jim Prentice and the Prime Minister's Office. Non-PC supporters, though, mention that Manmeet is indeed in his second year of Law school - in Ontario. They wonder whether he'll drop out of school, or be another MIA MLA if he's elected. They mention his family connections within the PC party and the Federal Tories, and wonder aloud about the circumstances and possible favouritism that saw him appointed as a candidate here. The word "carpet-bagger candidate" gets used a lot. The former board members of the PC Association in Montrose, for the most part, want nothing to do with his campaign (which again, depending on who you're listening to tell the story, might be a blessing for Manmeet). What can NOT be denied, though, if the sheer volume and dedication of his volunteers. Team Bhullar is absolutely everywhere in this riding, trying to spread the message and get their guy elected. If sheer force of will of one's volunteers can get someone elected, Manmeet may be needing to take a leave of absence from Queen's after this semester.
Michael Embaie is a hugely respected candidate, very well known in the ethnic and social services communities in Calgary. A former UN employee, Embaie is currently a sessional instructor at the University of Calgary's Faculty of Social Work. A long-time advocate for marginalized persons, Embaie sees the voters of Montrose as being marginalized as well by their "representation" over the past 14 years. Running for a seat in Calgary with a message of empowerment is almost always a good strategy, and the appetite for change is especially powerful in Montrose. Time will tell whether the voters think that Bhullar is change enough, or whether they may want to "cleanse the palate" with Embaie.
Al Brown is an electrician, union executive and community activist. Given that Montrose contains a high percentage of recent arrivals to the city (and, in a lot of cases, the country), the casual observer could be forgiven for assuming that this would be prime NDP real estate, given the party's focus on social programs, assistance, and the like. The reality, though, is quite different - many of the recent arrivals in Montrose number among the hardest workers in the city. They work long hours, want to pay as little tax as they can, and expect that their hard work will benefit their own families more than the government's pet programs. Not looking good for Brown, who is trying to improve on the NDP's 4th-place finish here in 2004.
Said Abdulbaki, on the other hand, could surprise a lot of people. The businessman and owner of Pizza Time (which, for the record, makes a TREMENDOUS pie) is a first time candidate for the Wildrose Alliance. This was one of the Alliance's stronger ridings in the city in 2004, and the "lower my taxes and stay out of my life!" message of Paul Hinman might play very well here. One area that Said is going to have to focus on to attract voters from the other parties is the Wildrose hallmark of electoral reform - if anyone knows how messed up the current system is, it's the people of these communities. Abdulbaki is going to have to run a very aggressive GOTV effort, but if he does, he could get a few thousand votes - which, in Montrose, might be all you need.
Fred Clemens is a former Park Warden from Ontario, with an education in environmental studies, and currently works in commercial real estate. What's curious is that Clemens, an avid outdoorsman and athletics coach, is running in Montrose instead of closer to his home in Calgary Currie. Montrose is not fertile ground for the Greens, and Clemens' qualifications indicate he would be a valuable asset to the Greens in the legislature - so why wouldn't they position him to succeed, by running him in a riding they could possibly win? It's a curious choice - but Clemens is a solid candidate, no matter where he's running. He's just got no chance to win in Montrose.
Ron Leech won the nomination for the PC's in a nomination meeting that, according to party rules, was flawed and therefore ruled illegitimate. The PC's then appointed Bhullar as their candidate for Montrose. Leech - an outspoken pastor at Eastside Church, has really muddied the waters in the riding with such statements as "(Leech) is fully supported by the constituency board of the Calgary Montrose PC Association", and his campaign office staff refer to him as the "Progressive Conservative candidate Ron Leech" (at least, when I called them they did). Further, many former PC's affiliated with the former MLA here (Hung Pham) have apparently been sewing confusion at the door, by suggesting Leech is the PC candidate. Given these examples, there's little question as to why the PC's weren't comfortable appointing Leech after the "non"-ination meeting. As a pastor, Leech should know that wishing doesn't make it so. What he COULD have parlayed into a positive ("proof" that Ed doesn't care about Calgarians) his campaign has instead dropped the ball on, and he's seen as running for the PC nomination and running against Ed Stelmach, rather than trying to be elected as an independent MLA and to represent the interests of Montrose in the Legislature. If he gets a huge push from the "values voters" who would be inclined to support a pastor, he can win - but it'll take busloads of supporters (40 or more busloads, actually). If he does win, it would be interesting to see him in the Legislature, with a pending human rights complaint against the Premier (who attends Sunday mass, by the way), on the basis of "Christophobia".