03/07/2012 05:48 EST | Updated 05/07/2012 05:12 EDT

Gloves off: Alberta Tories run attack ad campaign against Wildrose opponents

EDMONTON - Alberta's governing Progressive Conservatives are taking their gloves off in the run-up to the election, with radio attack ads calling the opposition Wildrose party dangerously irresponsible.

The ads, which begin airing on radio stations in Calgary on Thursday, denounce the Wildrose campaign, led by party leader Danielle Smith, to thwart controversial new drunk-driving rules.

They urge voters to think twice before marking an X.

"Danielle Smith and the Wildrose — not worth the risk," intones the closing line on the 30-second ad.

Tory campaign director Susan Elliott said the misinformation being spread by the Wildrose on Bill 26, the Traffic Safety Amendment Act, could not be left unchallenged, especially after the Wildrose tied it to a gimmicky drink coaster campaign.

"We're very concerned about the message that the Wildrose would appear to be sending, that it's OK to have several drinks and get behind the wheel of your car and drive home," Elliott said Wednesday. "We disagree quite strongly.

"We believe this legislation saves lives."

While the Tories have rarely used attack ads during their 11 consecutive election wins dating back to 1971, Elliott said the ads are indeed a shot across the bow with an election call expected within two weeks.

"We're prepared to talk about what we've done, to talk about our record, and to talk about what we propose," she said.

"If we feel opponents are twisting those words or misrepresent us, it's incumbent on us to clarify it."

The Wildrose have been campaigning to repeal the law, which was proposed and passed within weeks late last year by Premier Alison Redford's government.

The law, to be implemented later this year, targets not only drunk drivers by imposing stiffer licence suspensions and administrative penalties, but also those drivers who are close to the legal limit.

The Wildrose says targeting drivers in this legal grey zone, pegged as between .05 and .08 blood-alcohol content, is an infringement on civil rights and does nothing to go after the habitual drunk drivers who they say are the real road menace.

To drum up awareness, particularly in Calgary, the Wildrose are distributing drink coasters bearing the number. 05 crossed out inside a red circle above the words: "Repeal Bill 26. Drink Responsibly."

Vitor Marciano, spokesman for the Wildrose, said his party also wants a crackdown on drunk drivers, but this is not the way to do it.

He said the bill was passed in haste without due consultation of the ramifications.

"Albertans are still deeply concerned, not only about the substance of the bill and the fact it doesn't target the most dangerous drivers — they're also deeply concerned because it indicates this government passes legislation without listening to anybody," said Marciano.

He also said it shows the Wildrose, polling second to the Tories, are gaining steam.

"This is an indication that the PCs are starting to run scared in places in Alberta," he said.

The Wildrose has just four members in the 83-seat legislature, compared with 67 for the PCs.

But in the last two years, the party has gained popularity under Smith by championing initiatives like private land rights and no new taxes.

The party was polling close to the Tories a year ago, but slipped back after Premier Ed Stelmach stepped down and was replaced by Redford.

When Redford became premier in October, the Wildrose went after her with attack ads portraying her as an untrustworthy flip-flopper who breaks campaign promises.

Redford has said she will call an election soon after the budget passes later this month.