With Alberta's official election season imminent, the UCP and NDP are (unofficially) out in full force

UCP Leader Danielle Smith held a campaign-style event in southeast Calgary on Saturday morning, focusing in a six-minute speech on issues tied to the economy and crime. (Joel Dryden/CBC - image credit)
UCP Leader Danielle Smith held a campaign-style event in southeast Calgary on Saturday morning, focusing in a six-minute speech on issues tied to the economy and crime. (Joel Dryden/CBC - image credit)

Song unveilings and "Super Saturday" — Alberta's provincial election season kicked into high gear with campaign-style rallies this weekend, even though the writ won't officially be issued until Monday.

Though the United Conservative Party and the Alberta New Democrats have, in effect, been campaigning for weeks, Monday will bring a new urgency to the contest as both parties will have less than 30 days remaining to convince Albertans they are best positioned to form the next government.

UCP event focused largely on economy, crime

The UCP started the day in Calgary, the city that could decide the ultimate winner of the upcoming election. The party was scheduled to head north to Edmonton for a second rally later Saturday.

The morning event was held in a parking area near the campaign office of Rebecca Schulz, who is running for reelection for the UCP in Calgary-Shaw.

After taking the stage, UCP Leader Danielle Smith delivered a speech that ran just over six minutes, focusing largely on economic issues while members of the crowd waved "Move Alberta Forward" signs, the campaign slogan of the UCP.

"We have a responsible plan for a stronger, safer and more affordable future," Smith told the crowd.

Joel Dryden/CBC
Joel Dryden/CBC

In Calgary, polls have indicated that health-care ranks at the top of voters' minds. It's an issue that polls suggest is friendly to the NDP, followed by inflation and the economy, viewed as being stronger for the UCP.

On Saturday, Smith only briefly mentioned health-care, when she said her UCP government was focused on ensuring jobs were plentiful in that field, along with in film and television, agriculture, technology and others.

As the UCP campaign kicks off, the first order of business for the party will be crafting a narrative around defining a third issue for voters beyond inflation and the economy, said Michael Solberg, a partner and co-owner of New West Public Affairs, a government and public relations firm based in Calgary.

"I think that's what the war really is for right now. The UCP would love to see voters come to the ballot boxes with crime in mind, and how to address crime," said Solberg, a former Conservative staffer under Stephen Harper.

Smith signalled that approach Saturday, her emphasis on crime emerging as a close second to the economy. She said the UCP's plan was to "keep hard drugs and overdoses and criminals off the streets. A UCP government will ensure that criminals are behind bars."

Some supporters at the rally said they were focused on the economy, while others expressed concerns with Alberta's relationship with Ottawa.

"Ottawa has been running roughshod over Alberta for a long time," said supporter Rob Haynes.

Joel Dryden/CBC
Joel Dryden/CBC

Another supporter of the UCP said he hoped that the campaign focused squarely on the economy, and didn't, in his view, go "off the rails" on issues like the Alberta Sovereignty Act and COVID-19 restrictions.

"It's really that simple. It's not difficult. But Danielle seems to go over here, over there. The train seems to get off the tracks sometimes," said Merle Terlesky.

NDP event puts health care in focus

The Alberta NDP held their own launch party early Saturday evening at the Cité Francophone in the French quarter of Edmonton. The city remained an orange bastion during the 2019 election even as the majority of Alberta's ridings delivered the UCP its current mandate.

Leader Rachel Notley spoke to the gathered crowd for just under seven minutes before introducing Edmonton-based country act The Dungarees to play a campaign song calling on voters to "stand together."

Notley said an NDP government would focus on the priorities of Albertans. Much of her speech centred on health care, promising she would rebuild relationships with providers and ensure access to doctors.

Alberta NDP
Alberta NDP

Her address also touched on making life more affordable for Albertans, bolstering teacher numbers and making changes to the curriculum.

"Once we've done that, we are going to make sure that we put our economy on the right path and we create long-term, sustainable jobs," she said.

Leah Ward, vice-president at Wellington Advocacy and a senior advisor to Notley while she was premier, predicted in an interview before the event that the party was likely to emphasize health care and leadership as core issues as the campaign kicks off.

She said the party will also want to address seniors concerned about their pensions.

"That will be a really important issue for them to focus on because seniors tend to vote more than any other demographic," Ward said.

Notley's address on Saturday did emphasize the importance of the Canadian Pension Plan.

The UCP government under Jason Kenney had floated the idea of creating an Alberta Pension Plan. During the party leadership race in the fall, Smith campaigned on getting Albertans out of the CPP.

NDP supporter Terry Anderson was at the Edmonton launch event with his wife, Susan. He said he was tired of the UCP government, especially when it comes to environmental issues.

"I think it's going to be a close election," he said.

The writ for the upcoming provincial election is scheduled to be issued May 1. Polling day is May 29.