CALGARY - Premier Alison Redford pledged to forge ahead with building a new and better Alberta while taking direct aim at her opposition critics in a speech Friday, the opening night of the Progressive Conservatives' convention.

"Ours is a party and a government that unites, not divides," said Redford, who became the party's leader in October 2011.

"This year, the people of Alberta faced a clear choice between two radically different plans for the future," she said in reference to the fledgling Wildrose party her party defeated in last spring's provincial election.

"The choice was clear — between a party stuck firmly in the past, or as (Finance Minister) Doug Horner likes to call them, the 'Socred Retreads', or ours, a party which bets on the people of Alberta, knowing we can meet an ever-changing world head-on, confident in our ability to thrive."

Redford, who was greeted with a standing ovation at the beginning of her speech, said Albertans chose to move forward, not backward.

Alberta's ultra-conservative Social Credit party ruled the province for decades before being toppled by former premier Peter Lougheed's Progressive Conservatives in 1971. The Conservatives have been in power ever since.

Redford's comments came as the estimated 1,100 delegates plan to debate their constitution on the weekend and decide whether it's time to fence out their federal cousins.

Members are to vote on a motion to strip the automatic voting privileges given to Alberta Conservative MPs.

The motion highlights a growing rift between the two parties.

It was plainly visible in Alberta's recent general election, which saw a number of federal Conservatives MP's openly supporting opposition Wildrose candidates.

It's the first convention since Redford took the Tories to a majority win on April 23.

Redford said her government has already begun to lay the groundwork for the next four years by beginning to build family care clinics across Alberta, implementing a fully funded capital plan for communities and working toward a balanced budget.

"We were elected on a promise to invest in the services Albertans depend on, and every dollar that we find in savings in programs that aren't working will be spent on improving front-line services like education and health care."

The party will also review the rules on how the party picks the leader and whether to do away with the preferential ballot. Preferential voting allows voters to rank the candidates in order of preference rather than simply selecting a single candidate.

The preferential ballot was instrumental in 2006 in allowing both former Alberta premier Ed Stelmach and federal Liberal leader Stephane Dion to come from behind to win their leadership races.

The media was allowed to cover Redford's speech but the sessions on changing the constitution will be done behind closed doors on Saturday.

Despite that. Redford boasted of a "more open and transparent government."

"We've ushered in a new culture of transparency and accountability."

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said closed sessions don't match Redford's pledge for open government.

"For all her talk about raising the bar on openness, transparency and accountability, we've seen precious little of it," said Smith.

"This is just one more closed meeting."

Smith said the motion on federal Tory voting privileges is "reflecting the reality that there a lot of federal Conservative MPs who are conflicted about which party is the true voice of conservatism (in Alberta)."

- With files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton

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  • Ralph Klein On Belinda Stronach

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  • Ralph Klein takes on Dalton McGuinty

    "I'm no doctor, but I think that Mr. McGuinty's got a case of premature speculation," said Klein, reacting to comments made in March 2006 by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty opposing any two-tiered health care system in Ontario that Klein has proposed in Alberta, which was believed would allow quicker access to surgery for those who pay.

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    "Would somebody please outline to me the advantages of our doing it this way? For me, an Albertan? What are they? Can you give me a couple of them? What do I as an Albertan gain by this mad rush up there?" -- <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-magazine/the-second-coming-of-peter-lougheed/article659021/?page=all" target="_hplink">He asks in <em>The Globe And Mail</em></a>. (CP)

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