In the land where federal election results are typically much ado about nothing, the election scheduled for May 2, 2011 is not much of an exception. As the Liberals and NDP fill ballots across the province with last minute paper candidates, with few exceptions Alberta remains safe electoral territory for the Conservative Party of Canada.

If any riding in Alberta changes hands in this federal election, it will be Edmonton-Strathcona. It is the only riding represented by an opposition Member of Parliament and Conservatives have made it their goal to unseat NDP MP Linda Duncan, who defeated Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer by a slim 463 votes in 2008. After campaigning for two years, the Conservatives hope that candidate Ryan Hastman is the one who can do the job.

As the NDP’s Environment Critic in Ottawa, Ms. Duncan has gone against the grain of other Alberta MP colleagues by criticizing the oil sands and its impact on the environment. In a campaign stop in Edmonton this weekend, NDP leader Jack Layton only briefly mentioned the environment, suggesting that he may have been avoiding the issue while in Alberta (he also did not take media questions while in the province).

The Green Party has nominated Environmental Economics and Policy student Andrew Fehr, who faces the challenge of convincing Green-leaning voters that actually voting for a Green Party is a better choice than a strategic vote for Ms. Duncan. The Liberals have not yet nominated a candidate and appear to be a non-factor in this contest.

Federal NDP candidates Lewis Cardinal, Linda Duncan, and Ray Martin.

The highly polarized geopolitics of this riding have the Conservatives drawing strong support from polls in the east and NDP drawing strong support from polls in the west. Both candidates will lean heavy on financial and organizational support from their national parties, making this riding too close to call.

The irony is that the NDP could increase their vote total across Edmonton at the same time they could lose the only riding they currently hold.

In Edmonton-Centre the real contest to watch is not to defeat door-knocking/hand-shaking/baby-kissing election-machine Conservative MP Laurie Hawn. The real contest is for second place. The Liberals hope their candidate Mary MacDonald can regain the support they lost in the last election and maintain their position as the de facto alternative to the Conservatives in this riding. The NDP are hoping that their candidate Lewis Cardinal can help build the kind of support needed to cut the Liberals down to third place. This is similar to the multi-election strategy that helped the NDP make gains in Strathcona.

The Liberals held this riding from 1993 until 2006 when Mr. Hawn defeated Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan. Mr Hawn’s vote share decreased in 2008 while his margin widened substantially as the Liberal vote collapsed. The Greens have nominated 2008 candidate David Parker and also running is Mikkel Paulson, leader of the Pirate Party of Canada.

Edmonton-East MP Peter Golding is what I would refer to as a wall-paper backbencher. Since he was first elected in 1997, Mr. Goldring seems to only pop into the media spotlight when taking up odd causes like exposing the “truth about Louis Riel” or joining the bizarre drive to get the obscure Caribbean Islands of Turks and Caicos to join Canada.

The NDP have steadily increased their support in this riding since the 2004 election and former MLA Ray Martin is hoping that this trend continues. Mr Martin is an NDP institution in northeast Edmonton, having been elected as an MLA from 1982 to 1993, a public school board trustee from 2001 to 2004, and once again as an MLA from 2004 to 2008. This is the fourth time Mr Martin has sought a seat in Parliament since 1997. The Liberals have nominated IT management consultant Shafik Ruda.

Edmonton-Sherwood Park was the second closest race in 2008, when Independent Conservative James Ford nearly defeated Conservative candidate Tim Uppal. It was a city mouse versus county mouse game as many voters in Strathcona County and Fort Saskatchewan were upset with the Conservative nomination process that led to County Councillor Jacquie Fenske defeat and allowed Edmontonian Mr. Uppal to win the nomination.

Mr. Ford is running again and the Liberals and NDP, represented by Rick Szostak and Mike Scott, are expected to play minor supporting roles in this contest. The big question is whether voters in the county still feel that Mr. Uppal’s candidacy is the great injustice they believed it to be in 2008.