EDMONTON - Alberta's Progressive Conservatives, looking for an edge in a pitched election battle against the Wildrose party, seem to have declared war on old, white guys.
Tory strategists, in comments to the media in recent days, have begun pushing the message that anyone worried the right-wing Wildrose will resurrect regressive social policies should focus on sexual characteristics and skin colour.
"I was on the Wildrose website earlier, just looking at candidates, and I counted about 74 white guys my age or older," Tom Olsen, a 40-something Tory strategist, said when he squared off Monday against Wildrose counterpart Steven Dollansky on CBC-TV's "Power and Politics" show.
"I think there was 10 women and I think there was three visible minorities," he said.
"There are people waiting in the back wings who are waiting to get government to push this (retro social agenda) thing forward."
"What are you actually saying?" the host pushed. "Spit it out."
"I'll tell you exactly what I'm saying: This is the party of yesterday. This is the party of the middle-aged male who has lost control of the Progressive Conservatives because they have moved forward."
"I don't think that characterization is fair," said Dollansky before Olsen interjected
"How many white, male candidates do you have?" Olsen asked. "Seventy five."
"I have no idea how many white candidates we have," Dollansky replied.
Tory campaign manager Susan Elliott picked up on the theme in an interview with a Caucasian Calgary-based columnist published Tuesday.
Elliott was reacting to the Wildrose promise to allow citizen-initiated referendums, which critics fear opens the door to de-listing abortion.
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith has not ruled that out. But she has stressed that she won't legislate on it, and she doubts that such a referendum would be allowed to proceed because a successful vote to de-list abortion would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Elliott was quoted as saying the referendums are dangerous.
“Women understand who the target is," said Elliott in the column. "Can you think of a single citizens’ initiative that would target a white guy like you?
“You're not the target. I'm the target. Ethnic minorities are targets. Gays and lesbians are targets. We’re the targets of those kinds of things.”
Wildrose house leader Rob Anderson said it's telling that the party of venerated ex-premier Peter Lougheed is now reduced to playing the race card.
"It's absolutely disgusting. They should be ashamed of themselves," said Anderson in an interview.
"They sound utterly hysterical. It's literally like watching grown men and women in tinfoil hats running around yelling: 'The end is near! The end is near!'
"Danielle and the caucus have been clear from the day Danielle was elected leader: the Wildrose will not be legislating on any of these contentious moral issues, period."
White males are also the focus of a new Tory newspaper ad.
The full-page, full-colour ad depicts a smiling Premier Alison Redford juxtaposed with a dweebish, bespectacled, suit-and-tie wearing white male reading a newspaper inside an old cathode-ray TV set, replete with manual channel-changer.
"Not Your Father's PC Party," reads the ad.
Recent polls suggest the centre-right Tories and the Wildrose are running neck and neck in the race to become the next government of the province. Voters go to the polls on April 23.
The Tories have won 11 consecutive majority governments dating back to 1971 but for the first time are facing a serious challenge from a party further to the right on the political spectrum.
The Wildrose has made gains promising balanced budgets and a return to spending on priority projects.
It has also benefited from a protest vote from those angered over politicians being paid thousands of dollars for years to sit on a committee that didn't meet and for six-figure golden handshakes to departing members of the legislature.
The Tories are pushing back on the social agenda, particularly on the abortion issue and on conscience rights.
Conscience rights refer to the ability of public service workers to refuse to perform sworn duties if they conflict with moral or religious beliefs. They usually involve health-care workers refusing to perform abortions or counsel kids to practise safe sex. Civil marriage commissioners have also tried to invoke them to refuse to marry gay couples.
Saskatchewan's high court rebuffed an attempt to let a marriage commissioner opt out last year.
Smith won't say where she stands on conscience rights but says her party will create a special court to adjudicate such conflicts.
She also won't say where she stands personally on abortion, but has been on record in the past opposing public funding for the procedure.
Redford, speaking to reporters in Calgary Tuesday, said citizen referendums are not the way to go because they allow weak governments to abrogate their responsibility to lead.
She said she is concerned the Wildrose would allow a socially divisive issue to be revisited.
"There's no reason to presume it wouldn't be, and what concerns me about that is there are a number of issues that have been settled in this country for many years and there's no reason to be going back on those," said Redford.
"The courts have decided them and it's time for us all to move on and build our province."
— With files from Bill Graveland in Calgary
Also on HuffPost