POLITICS

Alberta election 2015: Rachel Notley, Brian Jean look to unseat Jim Prentice

05/02/2015 07:00 EDT | Updated 05/02/2016 05:12 EDT
Alberta's New Democrat Leader Rachel Notley and Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean both started out as political underdogs, but as the final days of campaigning wrap up before the May 5 provincial election, they've emerged as serious threats to the Progressive Conservatives' 43-year dynasty in Alberta. 

"There's an appetite for change," Jean told host Evan Solomon in an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House. 

"I just ask voters to consider what kind of change they're looking for," he added. "They have the NDP, whose economic plan is risky, or they can have the Wildrose, a party with a fully detailed fiscal plan that grows Alberta's economy without raising taxes."

Not mentioned was Premier Jim Prentice's PC party, an option some poll analysts are predicting Albertans will reject on election day in favour of a possible NDP minority government, the province's first ever.

An exclusive CBC poll suggests the Alberta NDP has a solid lead province-wide with 38 per cent of the decided vote. The PCs are in second place with 24 per cent support among decided respondents, while the Wildrose has 21 per cent.

The Return on Insight poll was conducted April 25-28 and based on telephone and cellphone interviews with 750 Albertans. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Opposition leaders talk platforms and promises

But neither Notley nor Jean are putting much faith in the polls. 

"I'm not a big poll watcher or believer," Jean said. 

Notley referenced 2012 polls that predicted a Wildrose victory only to have the PCs stage a comeback in the final 72 hours of the campaign to win a majority.

"You never know until the votes are counted," she told Solomon in a separate interview for The House. "People in Alberta have been looking for change for awhile, and Wildrose back in 2012 appeared to be the vehicle for that change, but I think there was a pretty fundamental disconnect between what they stood for and what Albertans were looking for."

Instead of counting on the polls, Notley and Jean are reinforcing their parties' platforms and key policies. For the Wildrose, that's a commitment to balance the budget by 2017 without raising taxes or cutting front-line jobs, something Jean says can be done through cutting managerial government positions.

The NDP says it will balance the budget a year later, in 2018, thanks in part to a corporate tax hike from 10 per cent to 12.

Health care and pipelines

Jean also expanded on his health care plan, saying the priority for the Wildrose is to reduce hospital wait times.

"We are not going to bring in two-tiered health care, we are not going to bring in private clinics," he said. "Albertans want to know that when they get sick they will get treated within a reasonable period of time."

The plan includes a wait-time guarantee and funding needed medical services for Alberta patients outside the province — and potentially the country — if timely access to those services is unavailable, according to the Wildrose party website.

Jean said he is open to working with the NDP and PCs if the Wildrose win a minority government, despite saying neither of the other parties can be trusted.

"You can't trust the New Democrats with the economy — we've seen that right across the country, whether it be in Ontario or otherwise," he said. "They destroy the economy. But you especially can't trust the PCs with anything. They've broken Albertans' trust."

Notley fought back against the suggestion the NDP will be poor fiscal managers.

"(Our platform) balances the budget a year later, it asks those corporations that are making healthy profits and those Albertans who are doing just a little bit better to make a slightly bigger contribution so we can balance the budget and at the same time reverse the billion-dollar cut to health care Mr. Prentice is proposing," Notley said.

The NDP leader also discussed her stance on pipelines. "Our discussion all this time has not been pipeline or no pipeline, but what's in the pipeline," she said, adding her party is against the Keystone XL pipeline to the U.S. Gulf coast the way it's currently proposed to ship unprocessed bitumen.

"That is not good for Albertans and not good for the economy in the long run," she said.

No matter how the election plays out May 5, Notley said she is considering the bigger message her surprise lead is having outside of the province.

"I think if we do better it will certainly underline the argument that I think [federal NDP Leader Tom] Mulcair has been making — that the NDP is always a legitimate and genuine alternative that voters can count on," she said.