EDMONTON - Alberta Premier Alison Redford rallied the troops for one last push Saturday morning while dismissing suggestions her province is heading for a north-south split in Monday's election.
"Talking to our candidates in Calgary they're very optimistic. I think we're going to see a good representation for us as Progressive Conservatives across the province," she said.
Redford and Wildrose rival Danielle Smith were making feverish last minute stops and meet-and-greets in Edmonton and Calgary on Saturday to solidify support and woo undecided voters.
Strong support for the Wildrose in southern Alberta and Calgary has led to speculation that the south will go to Smith while the north and Edmonton would remain solidly PC.
But the only sure thing appears to be a big turnout.
Advanced voting polling stations reported long lines Saturday, and the province is expected to easily surpass the 41 per cent turnout in the 2008 campaign, which was a record low.
In the morning Redford held a rally at a north-Edmonton convention centre. Local candidates were called to the stage like football players being introduced before the big game, cheered on by hundreds of sign-waving supporters.
At the end, candidate Gene Zwozdesky revved up the crowd by holding up Redford's arm as if she had won a boxing match and leading supporters in chants of "Vote P.C.! Vote P.C.!"
It was a an energetic start to the end of a brutish campaign of insults and mudslinging that may see the Wildrose end the 40-year-old Tory dynasty.
Redford finished off her day in Calgary and said it is her belief there has been a change of momentum in the campaign.
"I'm very excited at what we're hearing at the doors. I'm very excited at the response that we're getting from Albertans," Redford said.
"There were a lot of Albertans for some time that were very undecided. I think they did what I wanted them to do and what I asked them to do from the beginning and that was to take a look at the leaders, the platforms, our candidates and our vision for the future," she added.
"I think we're going to be in fine shape on Monday night."
The month-long campaign began with the Wildrose surging and the Tories on the ropes. Voters were upset with recent revelations of a government-dominated committee of politicians each being paid $1,000 a month to sit on a panel that hadn't met for years.
The so-called no-meet committee became the rallying cry for those who felt Redford's team had turned the public purse into a personal ATM.
Despite the fact Alberta politicians are the highest paid amongst the provinces, at about $163,000 each, more than $10 million will also be paid out this year in six-figure increments to retiring politicians. Speaker Ken Kowalski alone will get more than $1 million to ease his transition back to private life.
Redford spent the first week of the campaign apologizing for the payouts, promising to roll back the transition monies, and ordering the no-meet politicians from her party to pay the money back.
As the campaign rolled into its final week, the Tories rebounded while the Wildrose took a turn on the defensive.
Smith was pilloried by critics for refusing to cut loose two candidates for insensitive remarks toward minorities.
Edmonton candidate Allan Hunsperger had the word "Bigot" spraypainted on one of his signs after it was revealed he wrote a blog lambasting "godless" public schools that preach tolerance to gays, and warning homosexuals their lifestyle condemns them to hell's "lake of fire."
Then came Calgary candidate Ron Leech, who told a radio interviewer that as a Caucasian he alone has the credibility to speak to people of all races.
That led to Smith's impassioned plea Friday that while candidates' private views are just that, her party will not tolerate bigotry or discrimination.
Party strategist Vitor Marciano said Saturday that despite the controversy, voters still know the Wildrose would balance the budget, direct more money to front-line hospital care, deliver tax credits to young families, and return surplus oil profits directly to Albertans.
"I think we did do a good job getting our message out," said Marciano.
"It's been a strange campaign," he added.
"The absence of a PC message has meant that the last two weeks have not been about a policy debate.
"Instead, it's been about fearmongering, and the PCs trying to suggest the campaign is about personal points of view."
The tight race has led to speculation of a minority government and the possibility that some Liberal and NDP supporters should vote for the PCs to prevent a Wildrose victory.
Redford isn't personally asking for redirected votes, but has said she can work with the NDP and Liberals in the legislature.
But both Liberal leader Raj Sherman and the NDP's Brian Mason say a redirected vote is no vote at all.
The result they say, would be a right-wing government with a right-wing opposition, both agreeing to keep taxes low on big corporations and royalties low on the oilsands while keeping electricity bills high and directing more money to private health care.
Sherman told supporters Saturday that even if Redford wins, she will likely be ousted by her own party to win back disaffected supporters who fled to the Wildrose.
"People may think they're voting for Redford, but she'll be way past her 'best before' date the moment the polls close," said Sherman in a news release.
- With files from Bill Graveland in Calgary
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.