Alberta Election 2012: Liberals, NDP Focus On Fighting Each Other In Edmonton

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ALBERTA ELECTION 2012 NDP LIBERALS
Brian Mason's NDP and Raj Sherman's Liberals are battling it out in Edmonton. (CP) | CP

EDMONTON - With Alberta's two right wing heavyweights battling it out to win government, the two left-centre parties have retreated to their traditional stronghold in the capital city, content to focus on each other.

Brian Mason's NDP and Raj Sherman's Liberals are hitting the doorsteps in Edmonton in the provincial election campaign with virtually the same platforms.

Both are calling for progressive tax hikes hitting hardest on the wealthiest.

Both will increase taxes on corporations, slash tuition costs for students, pay for full-day kindergarten and cancel the carbon capture and storage plan.

Both leaders are running in Edmonton.

Both parties are also neck and neck, running just slightly north of 10 per cent support in recent opinion polls. If those numbers hold on the April 23 polling day, then both parties will be fighting to gain a handful seats.

Four is the magic number to keep official party status in the legislature, which brings extra funding and more face time in question period.

Both parties say they are quite different.

Sherman says all parties, including the NDP, have spent the first two weeks of the campaign poaching their ideas from the Liberal policy handbook, first released in early February.

Have at it, said Sherman in an interview.

"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," he said, but added that voters will remember where the ideas came from when they're in the polling booth.

The NDP in particular only came out last week with its messages on tuitions and taxes.

If elected, Mason says they will hike taxes on the wealthy, focusing on those earning over $200,000 a year. The province currently has a 10 per cent flat tax. The Liberal threshold starts at $100,00 which Mason says is too low.

The NDP would also hike the corporate tax rate to 12 per cent from 10, same as the Liberals.

The tuition rate would be slashed by 10 per cent under the NDP.

The Liberals go farther. Sherman has promised to lop off $250 from tuition immediately, then put aside revenue from oil and gas royalties into a fund that would allow tuition to be wiped out completely by 2025.

Graduating students who stay in the province to work would also get breaks on their student loans.

Mason says no tuition by 2025 is an unrealistic promise, especially for political parties that seek mandates from voters four years at a time.

"What we wanted to do is provide a real cut in the first year instead of imaginary cuts 10 years or 15 years from now, which is what the Liberal plan is," he said.

"These are not a pie in the sky plan."

Mason says while his party announced their platform during the campaign, their promises stick to their longstanding principles.

The Liberals have vacillated back and forth, moving its policies just to the right when it believes it can challenge the Tories for power, as in the 1993 election, and then back to the left, as in this election, when it's trying to keep a toehold in the legislature.

Both have candidates running provincewide. The NDP was the first party to field a full slate of 87 candidates. The Liberals have 84.

The NDP had two seats, both in Edmonton, at dissolution. But Mason has said he hopes to make a breakthrough in Calgary and in Lethbridge.

Half of Sherman's eight-member caucus were MLAs in Calgary at dissolution.

But in the first two weeks of the campaign neither leader has strayed far from Edmonton. And now that the election enters the final two weeks, which analysts call the red zone period when most voters begin making up their minds, neither appears ready to move beyond city limits.

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