EDMONTON - Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith was roundly booed and mocked at an Alberta election debate Thursday for questioning climate change, with Premier Alison Redford suggesting Smith in the province's top job would be a national embarrassment.
"There is still a debate in the scientific community," said Smith before being drowned out by a chorus of boos and catcalls from hundreds of people who attended a leaders debate outside CBC's downtown studio.
"And we're going to continue to watch the debate in the scientific community," she said raising her voice to be heard.
The debate was the last chance for voters to see all four party leaders trading shots together on a stage before heading to the polls Monday.
Redford's right-leaning Progressive Conservatives are facing a serious challenge from the further-right Wildrose to their 40-year-old dynasty, dating back to 1971.
Polls put Smith's party out in front. But one recent survey suggested Wildrose had seen a large early lead over Redford's team slip somewhat as anti-gay comments from one Wildrose candidate, racist comments from another, and Smith's assertion on global warming made headlines.
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The Liberals have started calling the election a choice between "a bunch of bullies" and "a bunch of bigots."
The crowd at Thursday's forum was heavily weighted toward seniors and was a mostly NDP-partisan, judging from the decibel level of cheers when the individual leaders were introduced.
The climate-change debate was among the most spirited.
Emissions from Alberta's oilsands plants, along with its great inland lakes of toxic waste, have become the poster pictures for those who label Canada environmentally irresponsible.
The effects of those images were seen recently when environmental protesters helped block approval of the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the United States on the grounds Canada needed to be sent a message to clean up its act.
It became an issue in the election campaign earlier this week, when Smith reiterated the Wildrose party's long-standing policy that the science of climate change is not settled.
Smith said despite her concerns, the Wildrose party would still take steps to reduce emissions through consumer rebates to spur investment in hybrid vehicles and energy efficient home retrofits.
"We're going to put in constructive policies," said Smith.
"Rebates are not going to fix this problem," NDP leader Brian Mason shot back.
"In my opinion, the science is completely settled. The only people that are disputing it are the phoney scientists funded by the oil industry," he said to cheers. "We need to get serious about it."
Mason said government needs to fix the problem at the industrial level with hard caps on emissions, moving away from coal-fired electricity generation, and funding more mass transit.
"There are a lot of things that could be done that should have been done a long time ago, but denying the science of climate change is just foolish."
Redford said if Alberta has a premier questioning climate change, it won't be taken seriously on the national or international stage.
"When I go to Washington and I talk to people in the White House, at Capitol Hill, and I'm trying to talk to them about why we need Keystone, they don't want to hear that I don't believe in climate change," she said.
"They want to know they have a premier and a leader from this province who is prepared to understand that this impacts our markets, this impacts our investors, and if we don't take it seriously it will impact our economy and our way of life."
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said his party is also calling for hard caps on emissions, and said they aren't questioning climate change.
"Science informs our position," he said.
Recent polls have also suggest that traditional Liberal and NDP voters may be switching loyalties to the Progressive Conservatives as a palatable centrist alternative to block the right-wing Wildrose.
One video going viral on the Web depicts a young Alberta man admitting he'd rather have his face chewed off by rodents than vote PC, but will anyway to keep the Wildrose from the levers of power.
At the end of the debate, Smith urged people to vote straight up.
"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.