Election 2011: rabble.ca has chosen 10 key ridings across Canada for progressives to watch in the run-up to the May 2 vote, and asked local writers to assess them. The profiles highlight why the riding profiled is important and issues local campaigns are focused upon.

In Alberta this week, all roads lead to Edmonton-Strathcona.

Down those roads, metaphorically speaking, flow the three Ms of Canadian politics: Mail, Money and Manpower.

This is because the folks who live along the still-snowy streets of the riding — which may soon be leafy and green as what Lucy Maud Montgomery called “the beautiful, capricious, reluctant Canadian spring” finally comes to Alberta — are represented by a New Democrat!

Will they still be represented by MP Linda Duncan, a capable and low-key environmental lawyer, when green leaves and warm sunshine dapple the streets of Edmonton-Strathcona? Well, the prime minister of Canada and his minions here in habitually Conservative Alberta — where this inner-city Edmonton is the only spot on the provincial electoral map not coloured Tory blue — have decreed it must not be so after the May 2 federal election.

To that end, they have been pouring the Three Ms into the riding in support of Ryan Hastman, a 31-year-old evangelical Christian and sometime minor PMO minion, chosen as the Conservative standard bearer. He seems to have been picked in part on the theory his age and looks will appeal to university students.

Specifically, this has meant taxpayer subsidized Parliamentary mail sent by Conservative offices and vast sums of money not needed by Conservative candidates in Alberta ridings where winning the Tory nomination means winning the Parliamentary seat. Only on the manpower front, have Duncan’s enthusiastic New Democratic supporters been able to equal or exceed the Tory troops.

Duncan’s election in 2008 came as a surprise to Alberta’s Conservative establishment — though it shouldn’t have, given the appalling quality of representation the riding received from Reform-Alliance-Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer, who over five easy elections justly earned the sobriquet of “Canada’s laziest MP.” Still, the riding hadn’t elected an MP who wasn’t a member of some kind of Conservative-Reform-Alliance Party since 1958, when voters sent a Social Crediter to Ottawa.

Duncan made a credible run in 2006, in the process persuading many traditionally Liberal voters to move to the NDP column as long as Duncan was the candidate.

At any rate, voters in the riding — which surrounds the mildly progressive environs of the University of Alberta campus in the west and modestly suburban and traditionally Conservative neighbourhoods in the east — decided to give the hard-working New Democrat a try. Even so, old Alberta political habits die hard, and Duncan only squeaked in by 463 votes.

Indeed, on election night 2008, the CBC announced Jaffer’s victory and recorded his “victory speech.” By the time this writer got to Duncan’s headquarters to commiserate, however, New Democrats were celebrating victory.

This means is Duncan’s re-election is certain to be a hard fight. On her side is her credible performance since 2008 as an effective MP. Also helping have been a number of blunders by her Conservative opponent — Hastman was discovered to be getting help from a friend and former ministerial aide under investigation by the RCMP and was called out by the widow of the province’s most successful Liberal leader for comparing himself to her husband on a radio program.

For months, the government has trotted Hastman out around the riding to announce federal spending — as if he were the MP. It’s not clear if it has percolated to the riding’s Conservative voters that thanks to having an NDP MP they are doing better than most Alberta ridings, whose MPs, at best, take loyal voters for granted.

In the end, Duncan’s success may come down to how determined progressive and environmentally concerned voters are not to be distracted by a plethora of “alternative” candidates — including a Green, a Marxist-Leninist, two Independents, and a member of something called the Canadian Action Party.

The Liberals have nominated a candidate, but the message from their party to Liberal voters seems to be clear that it’s OK to vote strategically for the NDP.

For the reality — certainly in Edmonton-Strathcona with possible implications across the country — is that a vote for the Greens, the Liberals or any of the others is a vote for the Conservatives.

Click here for information on Edmonton-Strathcona.

Click here for information on Linda Duncan.