Parties promise to stick to high road in Alberta election even as attack ads air

EDMONTON – Alberta Premier Alison Redford is expected to drop the election writ Monday to launch a campaign that already has the two heavyweights promising to stick to the high road.

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If called Monday, voters will go to the polls on April 23 following a four-week campaign shaping up as a slugfest between Redford’s Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose party under leader Danielle Smith.

Both are chasing voters from the centre-right of the political spectrum and the Wildrose is expected to deliver the first serious challenge in years to four decades of Tory hegemony.

Wildrose house leader Rob Anderson says that challenge starts with telling people what his party is rather than what Redford is not.

“People want a change, and we just have to make sure that our party puts a positive vision forward starting Day 1 one of the campaign,” said Anderson.

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“I’m pretty hopeful about this campaign. I do see it being more positive than negative.”

Redford stressed recently that she, too, wants to keep things clean.

“We’re going to do our very best to keep the tone of the election to one that I think Albertans expect, which is an appropriate, dignified discussion with respect to policy,” she said.

“We will have Albertans judge how they want their leaders to conduct themselves. That’s the point of an election.”

But both sides have already toyed with attack ads.

When Redford took over as premier last fall, a series of Wildrose ads portrayed her as either a flip-flopper or a power-hungry promise-breaker.

Recent Tory radio ads that ran in Calgary suggested Smith opposed a new law cracking down on drinking and driving because she was OK with people dying on the road.

Anderson said the Wildrose has changed its approach since its earlier ad efforts.

“We actually learned a good lesson the first time out.”

A new Wildrose ad, which began running last week, is more upbeat and attacks Redford’s record rather than the premier herself, he said.

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“We specifically went into this last ad saying we just have to put the facts out and let Albertans judge for themselves.”

The ad resembles a movie trailer with quick edits set to martial music. It begins with washed out shots of Redford between unfriendly headlines of recent Tory policy fiascos, then builds to a full-colour montage of Smith hugging supporters and speaking against a majestic backdrop of the provincial coat of arms.

Anderson said the ads don’t attack Redford personally, but “of course we’re going to be calling them out on their record. That’s part of campaigning.

“You do have to contrast your opponent.”

Both parties will also have to stave off opponents from the centre-left.

The Liberals under Raj Sherman are promising to tax the rich more and cut government expenditures to help balance the budget while still giving students a break on tuition.

Brian Mason’s New Democrats are fighting to fix health care by adding more long-term care beds and promise to re-regulate the electricity market to reduce rising power bills.

The centrist Alberta Party, headed by former Hinton mayor Glenn Taylor, is running on a platform of more democratic transparency and preventative health care.

Redford said despite best intentions, she has already warned her family members to brace themselves for attack ads.

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“I worry a little bit about my family, and we’ll see how that goes.”

She said she worries about her nine-year-old daughter, Sarah, who regularly watches the Disney channel but does occasionally flip around the dial.

“She watches the news with (Redford’s husband) Glen, but I’m sure if there are (attack) stories like that on the news, Glen won’t let her watch them.

“I said (to my family), ‘Just prepare yourselves for this,'” she added.

“Doing all that helped me get ready for it, (but) when it happens it’s still surprising.”