EDMONTON - Party leaders battling it out in the final days of the Alberta election campaign braved the barbs of a live studio audience in a final debate before Monday's vote.
CBC hosted a leadership forum broadcast on TV and radio four days before Albertans head to the polls.
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman, struggling for traction much of the campaign, set the tone by suggesting the election has turned into a choice between bullies and bigots.
The bullies reference was a shot at the Progressive Conservatives, who have faced allegations they have used heavy-handed tactics to silence critics.
The bigots comment was a dig at the Wildrose party, which polls suggest is in the lead going into the vote. The party has faced criticism for its position on so-called conscious rights and for two candidates who have been forced to clarify remarks they made about race and homosexuality in recent days.
"Do we really have to vote for two false choices — a bunch of bullies who've been wrecking our health and education ... systems, and a bunch of bigots, who want to further wreck our health and education systems?" Sherman asked.
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith took the lion's share of heckling from the audience. She was booed loudly by the audience when she said climate change is still up for debate.
Smith has faced criticism ever since she suggested earlier this week that the question of global warming still hasn't been settled, while almost everyone in the scientific community and many governments say it has been.
"We've been watching the debate in the scientific debate, and there is still a debate in the scientific community," she said to jeers. "And we are going to continue to watch the debate in the scientific community, but that's no excuse not to act."
NDP Leader Brian Mason fired back.
"It's only disputed by phoney scientists funded by the oil industry," he said.
The audience also booed as Smith said her party would not make any laws on contentious moral issues.
"I believe we need to be tolerant of all people's views and that's the position we take as a political party," she said.
Mason suggested Albertans don't want to go back to the 1950s when it comes to abortion and gay marriage.
Progressive Conservative Leader and Premier Alison Redford said she feels most Albertans believe those questions have been settled.
"We have to respect diversity ... We have to respect their rights to choose."
The debate ended with a discussion on strategic voting — supporting one party to keep another from winning. It's an issue that has emerged in the final days of the campaign.
On Wednesday a website titled "I Never Thought I'd Vote PC" popped up. The site depicts young people saying they are not fans of the Tories, but they will vote for them to keep the Wildrose out. One man on the site says he would rather have his face eaten by rodents than vote PC, but he's going to anyway.
In her closing remarks, Smith asked Albertans not to vote strategically.
"I have to tell you that I think you should vote in your heart who you think will best represent you in the legislature," she said. "Having a government that has been in power for 41 years and created all of the problems that we have today, I think one thing that the opposition leaders will all agree on is that is not a government that deserves to have another majority."
Here's a look back at some of the most memorable moments from the campaign.
A blog post saying that gays were destined to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/15/wildrose-anti-gay-blog-alberta_n_1427008.html" target="_hplink">burn in a "lake of fire" for eternity was brought to light on April 16.</a> Allan Hunsperger, a pastor who's running as a Wildrose candidate in Edmonton South, also referenced Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way': "You see, you can live the way you were born, and if you die the way you were born then you will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering." Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said she was aware of Hunsperger's religious views.
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith found herself <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/20/danielle-smith-booed-climate-change-alberta-election-debate_n_1439858.html" target="_hplink">on the receiving end of booing and mockery at a debate on April 19 for questioning climate change .</a> "There is still a debate in the scientific community," said Smith before being drowned out by a chorus of boos and catcalls. PC leader Alison Redford said Smith leading the province would be an embarrassment.
Wildrose candidate Ron Leech <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/17/ron-leech-wildrose-candidate_n_1432653.html" target="_hplink">made some controversial remarks about race on a South Asian radio show.</a> "I think as a Caucasian I have an advantage. When different community leaders such as a Sikh leader or a Muslim leader speaks, they really speak to their own people in many ways. As a Caucasian, I believe that I can speak to all the community," said Leech. He apologized for his remarks on April 24, saying that his comments did not come out the way he intended.
During the April 12 debate, the candidates for the Wildrose, Liberal and NDP took the opportunity to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/12/alberta-election-debate_n_1419850.html" target="_hplink">gang up on Progressive Conservative leader Alison Redford</a>. It was an unsurprising tactic given that the Tories have held power in Alberta for 11 consecutive majority governments, although polls reveal the Wildrose may have a fighting chance.
When the Wildrose first rolled out their campaign bus, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/23/alberta-wildrose-campaign_n_1375998.html" target="_hplink">there was something distinctly odd about the wheel placement </a>in relation to Smith's image. Late night host Jay Leno even poked fun at the busty bus before a new, less suggestive design rolled out.
An April 10 poll showed that Danielle Smith's Wildrose party was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/11/alberta-election-2012-poll_n_1417267.html" target="_hplink">neck and neck with the Progressive Conservatives</a>. The Leger Marketing poll showed the Wildrose has the support of 36 per cent of Albertans, compared to 34 per cent for the governing Tories.
This Hour Has 22 Minutes gave their own take on the Alberta election by poking fun at the similarities between Alison Redford and Danielle Smith. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/03/alberta-election-2012-22-minutes_n_1400747.html" target="_hplink">CLICK TO WATCH</a>
Progressive Conservative staffer<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/31/pc-staffer-resigns-danielle-smith-wildrose-tweet_n_1393807.html" target="_hplink"> Amanda Wilkie "resigned" on March 31 after tweeting</a> "If @ElectDanielle likes young and growing families so much, why doesn't she have children of her own? #wrp family pack = insincere." Backlash came swiftly from the PC, the Wildrose and Twitter users alike. Alison Redford herself issues an apology, but not before Smith revealed that she didn't have children due to fertility issues.
In a moment of levity, but mostly embarrassment for Danielle Smith, the Wildrose leader's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/31/danielle-smith-dogs-wildrose-alberta_n_1394069.html" target="_hplink">dogs got frisky during a photo op in Calgary</a>.
In a province where conservative values dominate politics, Brian Mason's NDP and Raj Sherman's Liberals are left to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/06/alberta-election-liberals-ndp-edmonton_n_1408884.html" target="_hplink">duke it out in left-leaning pockets such as Edmonton</a>.
On April 10, for the second time, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith was called out for her<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/10/danielle-smith-pro-choice-gay-marriage_n_1416319.html" target="_hplink"> supposed opposing stance on abortion and gay marriage</a>. Smith however snuffed out the controversy: "When our members elected me they knew they were electing a candidate that was pro-choice and pro-gay marriage." The issues came up earlier in the election when <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/07/alberta-election-abortion-social-issues_n_1409963.html" target="_hplink">Smith was less forthcoming</a> on the subjects.
Alberta's education minister Thomas Lukaszuk claimed he was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/07/thomas-lukaszuk-assault_n_1410308.html" target="_hplink">assaulted while canvassing in an Edmonton neighbourhood</a>. He said he knocked on the door of a residence with a Wildrose support sign and, once recognized, was punched by the resident within. The resident, Al Michalchuk, says he merely nudged Lukaszuk when he refused to leave.