Alberta Election 2012: Wildrose And Conservatives Make Promises As Debate Over Abortion, Social Issues Simmers

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ALBERTA ELECTION REDFORD SMITH
Social issues are becoming a point of debate between Danielle Smith and Alison Redford. (CP) | CP

CALGARY - The controversial issue of so-called "conscience rights" continued to simmer on the backburner Saturday as Alberta's election campaign neared the halfway point.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford made a campaign stop in Calgary to announce new initiatives to support active lifestyles for children in the form of a physical activity credit while her chief rival, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, was in the province's deep south pitching her plan on reducing health procedure waiting times with her Alberta Patient Wait Time Guarantee.

A number of polls have shown the fledgling Wildrose party in the lead in the first two weeks of the campaign but along with frontrunner status comes increased public scrutiny.

The conscience rights issue emerged last Wednesday. Smith declined to say whether she supported public workers being allowed to opt out of jobs such as marrying gay couples or performing abortions over moral objections. She said Wildrose would set up a special branch of the provincial court to moderate disputes if they arise.

On Friday, Smith, who several years ago expressed support for the idea of delisting abortion as a provincially funded procedure, said a Wildrose government wouldn't bring in legislation that would force pregnant women to pay for the service themselves.

But she did say it could come forward through a citizen-initiated vote.

"There's been a lot of discussion this weekend with respect to some pretty basic human rights that were determined in this province about 20 years ago," said Redford.

"I find it odd that this is becoming part of the conversation and it does trouble me. I don't think it's what Albertans want to be talking about - some of these issues are settled and the fact they're percolating bothers me. It bothers me as a woman."

Smith shot back on Thursday, accusing the Conservative government of trying to discredit Wildrose.

"It's typical of liberal politicians to demonize a conservative party using fear-mongering. I think that Albertans won't fall for it,'' she said.

Redford, who was attending her daughter Sarah's 10th birthday party at the Calgary Talisman Centre, announced the Alberta Children's Physical Activity Tax Credit. It would amount to up to $500 a year per child as well as a doubling of the current funding to amateur sports organizations from $10 million to $20 million per year.

"What that means is that parents are going to be able, when they make that investment in their children's activity, to get some tax recognition for that," she said.

The campaign promises have been coming fast and furious from both the Conservatives and Wildrose during the campaign. Redford said her announcements fall within her government's spending plans.

"Every announcement that we've made in this campaign fits within our projected surpluses. So it's entirely possible for us to meet the commitments that we're making. We're doing it and still balancing the budget with no new taxes and no tax increases."

The tax announcement is markedly similar to one introduced by Wildrose a week earlier involving a $500 culture, arts and sports tax credit.

The Wildrose credit would apply to parents who enrol their kids to play hockey, take dance lessons and a number of other extracurricular activities.

Smith was in Lethbridge Saturday once again highlighting the Patient Wait Time Guarantee. She said it will ensure that Albertans and their families get access to 10 critical health procedures within the wait time benchmarks set by the Canadian Wait Time Alliance of medical professionals.

If Alberta's public healthcare system can't meet these benchmarks, she said, Alberta Health Insurance will pay to have the procedures performed at independent facilities inside or outside the province.

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