Alberta voters face stark choices in Monday's election
John Size, CTVNews.ca
Published Sunday, April 22, 2012 10:49PM EDT
Alberta's Progressive Conservatives made their last pleas to voters ahead of Monday's election, which could end the party's 41-year-old dynasty in the province.
Premier Alison Redford made last-minute campaign stops in Calgary on Sunday, telling voters the future of Alberta's economy and its global reputation are at stake.
Recent data suggests Redford has reason to worry: polls show her rival, Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith, in the lead.
Polls also indicate that Wildrose has strong support in rural southern Alberta, while Edmonton appears to remain a PC stronghold. Calgary is considered a battleground.
Even though Smith's campaign suffered setbacks when two candidates made controversial remarks about homosexuality and about skin colour being a factor in the campaign, experts still predict a tight election race.
Both leaders took shots at one another on Sunday, with Smith accusing the Tories of running a "non-stop mudslinging machine" and Redford criticizing her rival's denial of climate change.
But last-minute rhetoric may not have mattered to the hundreds of people who lined up at advance polls over the weekend. Strong turnout across the province is also expected on Monday.
"If Danielle Smith becomes the premier there's going to be way more, ‘What's in it for us, the heck with you, firewall time, co-operation is out, what's global warming'," University of Lethbridge political scientist Peter McCormick said Sunday.
The rest of Canada will have a harder time dealing with Alberta under a Wildrose government, McCormick told CTV's Question Period.
Under a Conservative government, he expects there would be more of a wider-thinking policy regarding how Alberta fits in with the rest of Canada.
Mike Percy, a retired dean of business from the University of Alberta, agreed. He suggested Redford's energy policy is about collaboration and working with the federal government to project the province as an environmental leader that produces energy.
"Wildrose is very much more inward looking, skeptical about climate change, believing that just having energy is sufficient, lobbying Washington for greater pipeline access," he told Question Period in the same interview.
The Conservatives have ruled Alberta since 1971 when voters tossed out the Social Credit party of then-premier Harry Strom.
If the polls are correct, the province is once again heading in a new direction, electing a Wildrose government with little experience running the province's business.
"We never elect the opposition to government, that's boring," McCormick said.
"Every 30 or 40 years we decide to elect a whole bunch of complete amateurs and watch them learn on the job. It's an interesting way to do it," he said.
Percy said if Wildrose does indeed form a majority government Monday, it may suffer some pratfalls, but it's likely they wouldn't be devastating.
"In some sense, there's enough momentum in the economy that you could have some missteps and still you would see significant ongoing growth," he said.
McCormick and Percy both agreed a minority government with the New Democrats holding the balance of power would be unstable.
Neither Wildrose nor the Conservatives could openly embrace the NDP in the right-of-centre province without committing political "suicide," McCormick said.
"So that does not sound like a very stable minority government situation to me, so politically everything would go on hold for as long as it took to defeat a government which mightn't be very long," he said.
"I think that would be, in some ways, the scariest of the outcomes," McCormick said.
Redford, also appearing on Question Period, said Alberta is changing with the influx of more than one million people in the last 10 years, and another million expected during the next decade.
She said the province is growing in diversity and her party understands the need to plan for growth in areas like health care and education, something that separates her government from the "ideological" Wildrose economic policies.
Redford also lamented about the Wildrose candidates who raised the issue of race and homosexuality.
She said it was "unfortunate" Albertans were once again portrayed on the national stage as being preoccupied with these issues.
"I think most Albertans have taken the perspective that we've moved past all of these," she said.
Allan Hunsperger, a church pastor who is running in Edmonton, wrote a blog post last year in which he warned gays and lesbians they would end up in an eternal "lake of fire." The post grabbed headlines last week before it was taken down.
Last weekend, Ron Leech, who is running in Calgary, told a local radio station that he had an electoral advantage because he's white. He later apologized.
Smith stood by both men, saying they are entitled to their opinions while reiterating that the Wildrose party won't tolerate any kind of discrimination.
Smith declined an invitation from Question Period to appear on Sunday's program.
Redford said if the Conservatives form a minority government there's probably "commonality" that could be found between Wildrose and her party.
But she also said after watching little political substance result from the minority governments of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Albertans were likely to make a different decision Monday.