A campaign-style rally at the NDP convention on Sunday saw hundreds cheer on Premier Rachel Notley, as she and the United Conservative Party continue to draw lines in the sand over their differences.
Notley, who officially announced her candidacy in the next election, entered the convention to cheers of “four more years” and “Rachel, Rachel” as supporters waved posters in the air reading “Fighting for education,” “Fighting for healthcare” and “Fighting for Alberta.”
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The premier reflected on how it was three-and-a-half years ago in that same hotel ballroom that she won the race to become the province’s next premier.
“Let’s do it again,” she said as party faithful cheered her on.
The premier reflected on changes her party has brought to the province, including increasing the minimum wage, introducing the climate change leadership plan and investing in infrastructure such as hospitals, roads and bridges.
Notley also took aim at the UCP, the party’s biggest rival in the spring election.
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“Not long ago a UCP MLA – in fit of transparency – said, ‘it’s going to hurt’ if the UCP gets elected,” she said.
“I guess some of us got into politics to help people. And others got into politics to hurt people.”
Notley said the spring election is about making a choice.
“There are two visions for Alberta going forward. There’s the one me and my team have been demonstrating to Albertans in terms of creating jobs, supporting public services, supporting families or the choice Jason Kenney is promoting around making cuts in order to support a tax cut to the one per cent,” she said.
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UCP House Leader Jason Nixon, in comments to the media after the premier’s speech, denies that will be the case.
“Jason Kenney has been crystal clear that our platform is not cutting,” he said.
“We do think there’s going to be a need for fiscal restraint. We want to protect front-line services and the services Albertans need. The NDP can continue to go forward over and over saying we’re going to cut things. That’s not true. That’s not what we’ve said. The people of Alberta are telling us we need to get our finances in control so we can avoid things like that in the future.”
In her speech, the premier said that the politics of hope trumps the politics of anger.
“Good conversations about legitimate differences of opinion are healthy to democracy. I think there are two very different visions of Alberta. We will certainly challenge our opposition on their vision because we don’t think it’s the right vision,” she said.
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She is also calling for a positive election campaign.
“It’s my hope that neither party engages in taking it a step further and getting super personalized or engaging in the kind of extreme name-calling we’ve seen in other jurisdictions.”
Nixon, however, said that attacks are already happening.
“I would also submit to you the fact, the level of personal attacks and the fact clearly Jason Kenney is living in the NDP’s minds rent-free over and over and over, shows the NDP are scared right now and fearful for their campaign upcoming and their changes,” he said.
Political analyst Duane Bratt from Mount Royal University said there hasn’t been an election like this in decades.
“In this election, we have a clear left-wing option, a clear right-wing option and there isn’t much in between,” he said.
Bratt also said the election will pit Notley, who will have four years of being premier under her belt, against Kenney, who has experience as a federal cabinet minister.
“An ideological choice, a clear choice in leadership and a very long campaign makes this a very unusual election in Alberta,” he said.
Bratt said the NDP and the UCP are approaching their campaigns differently; while the NDP is attacking Kenney, Bratt said Kenney is focusing on something else – Justin Trudeau.
“They have focused their criticisms on the Trudeau government and what they would describe as enemies of Alberta,” he said.
Bratt said Kenney’s strategy focuses on the economy.
The campaign has been underway for many months and it will only ramp up, however Bratt said many people already know who they are going to vote for.
“A lot of this decision-making about who they’re going to vote for is already embedded. I know campaigns matter. We’ll see if they matter as much this time given how long the pre-campaign has been.”