CALGARY -- In a campaign-style speech to party supporters, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley labelled the opposition United Conservatives self-serving and determined to take the province backward.
Notley, in an address Saturday, noted that UCP party members, at their recent founding convention, voted to expand private health care, scrap the progressive income tax and have parents told when their child joins a gay-straight alliance at school.
She also pointed out that the U-C-P caucus members walked out of the legislature chamber 13 times in the last session rather than vote on a bill to better protect women and staff from being harassed at abortion clinics.
She said calls from the UCP to get spending under control will lead to mass layoffs for teachers and nurses, and called the entire platform a vision for Alberta out of step with reality.
"It's a UCP fantasy concocted by the very narrow special interests that have taken control of what was once the PC party," said Notley as supporters chanted 'Rachel, Rachel, Rachel' and 'NDP, NDP, NDP.'
"We are going to make sure that they never get to act on that fantasy."
She suggested health care may be a defining wedge issue in the upcoming election campaign, telling supporters: "Let me assure you very clearly, this premier, this caucus, under no circumstances will we ever, ever invite American two-tiered health care into our province."
The PC party merged last year with the Wildrose party to form the United Conservatives under former Conservative MP Jason Kenney.
Kenney's party is still hashing out its policy platform, but Kenney has said the multibillion-dollar budget deficits being run by Notley's government are unsustainable and that taxes such as the carbon levy are hindering economic growth.
Kenney promises the first act of a UCP government will be to axe the tax.
Notley told the crowd her government is making progress diversifying the economy and reducing waste and high salaries in government agencies, boards and commissions.
She said jobs are returning and the economy, decimated by the extended slump in oil prices, is bouncing back too, but urged caution.
"Many people are still struggling and we have much, much more work to do because for us a recovery that doesn't reach every Albertan is not a recovery at all," she said.
Notley said the recent purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline by the federal government means construction on the project resumes in earnest this summer and ultimately means a better price for Alberta oil.
Notley criticized Kenney for initially endorsing the idea Alberta and Ottawa use public funds to rescue Trans Mountain, but later saying it should only be done as a last resort.
When the federal government announced last month it was buying the line, Kenney blamed Ottawa and Notley for letting the situation deteriorate to the point the feds had to purchase the project to save it.
"With Mr. Kenney, it's never quite clear," said Notley.
"Remember that movie 'Twister,' the one about the storm chasers?
"If you come across it on iTunes I would suggest to you don't bother spending the five bucks to watch the movie again. Just turn on the legislature TV channel and watch Jason Kenney twist for free."
On the abortion clinic bill, Notley said, "These people (in the UCP) actually believe that they can run the province, but when it comes to making a decision on something as basic as protecting women from harassment, they run for the hills.
"Alberta needs their leaders to lead."
Kenney is anti-abortion but has said he won't legislate on his beliefs.
He and his caucus refused to engage on the bill, saying it's an issue for civil courts, and called the bill political game-playing by Notley.
Albertans go the polls in a general election next spring.