CALGARY — There's more to the Calgary Stampede than a rodeo, cowboy hats and horses — it's also a major opportunity for politicians.
Regardless of their political stripe, they ride into the city looking to lasso partisan support in the form of votes.
The 10-day festival celebrating the cowboy way of life has attracted all federal leaders, who often take on the persona of duelling gunslingers looking for votes in a game of political one-upmanship.
Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been a regular visitor to the Stampede, as have the leaders of the federal Conservatives, NDP and Green Party.
Most of the attention this year will be on the federal Conservative party leadership race, with all five remaining candidates attending a local party barbecue Saturday evening as well as many provincial politicians looking to replace Alberta Premier Jason Kenney as leader of the province's United Conservative Party.
"It isn't just Conservatives that do this. I think somehow it evolved," said Lori Williams, a political science professor at Calgary's Mount Royal University.
"There was enough media attention and enough people coming from outside of Calgary that it became a magnet for leaders across the country to come and engage in sort of feel-good political connections that would be seen by people across the country."
She said there's some "star power" associated with the Stampede too.
"Seeing someone they have viewed online or on television and they want to sort of see and connect — and that's a great opportunity for politicians, because sometimes those connections can change hearts and minds."
The federal Conservatives are scheduled to elect a new leader in September.
Interim leader Candice Bergen was scheduled to address the crowd at the Conservative barbecue, as well as leadership candidates Pierre Poilievre, Jean Charest, Leslyn Lewis, Scott Aitchison and Roman Baber.
"It's an opportunity for politicians to be in more of a relaxed and different setting, looking a bit different, engaging in different activities, a bit of a friendlier, more positive vibe to things," Williams said.
Former Calgary Conservative MP Joan Crockatt said politicians get a chance to see a lot of people during the Stampede, which makes it very efficient.
"I think what people have kind of come to expect from the Stampede is that there's going to be some star quality, you get to wear your rhinestones and your cowboy hat and your cowboy boots," said Crockatt, who represented Calgary Centre from 2012 to 2015.
"That's a way more fun way to meet a politician than events or going door knocking."
The Stampede runs through July 17.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 9, 2022.
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press