04/23/2015 09:15 EDT | Updated 07/21/2015 02:59 EDT

Alberta party leaders square off in lone televised election debate

EDMONTON - Alberta's four party leaders squared off in a televised debate Thursday, attacking each other on corporate taxes, health care and funding for kids in schools.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley accused Premier Jim Prentice of aiding the corporate sector at the expense of funding schools and students with a budget that doesn't account for projected classroom growth.

"You're prepared to send 12,000 new kids into the classroom next September without a teacher because it's more important to you to protect your corporate tax giveaways," Notley told Prentice.

"That is not the case," he replied.

Prentice said the Tories spend $1,500 per student more than other province in Canada.

"The next couple of years will be tough and we would ask school boards to work with us. And we will watch and ensure that we get successful outcomes for our kids," he said.

Liberal Leader David Swann said the Tories are not preparing students to excel in school.

"This should be the number 1 priority," said Swann.

"Our children. Our future."

The debate comes in the third week of a campaign that has polls putting the Wildrose, NDP, and the Progressive Conservatives bunched together, with the Liberals a distant fourth.

Voters go to the polls on May 5.

Prentice has been under fire from critics for bringing in a budget that hikes personal income taxes and user fees while not touching corporate income taxes, which are the lowest in Canada at 10 per cent.

Prentice told Notley that hiking corporate taxes, as the NDP is suggesting, is self-defeating in a economy that has struggling with low oil prices.

"It will destroy investments and destroy jobs," said Prentice.

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean agreed that a corporate tax hike is self-defeating, but said the budget can be balanced again without hiking taxes and user fees to families.

"How many times did he (Prentice) go after families (with hikes)? Fifty-nine times," said Jean. "How many times did he go after corporations? Zero."

Jean himself came under attack from the other leaders for a plan to reduce wait times for five key surgical procedures using, if necessary, more private clinics or by sending patients to other provinces or to the United States.

The province would cover the cost of the procedure but other costs would be paid by the patient.

"Unlike the PCs, we don't think Albertans should be waiting a year to get a knee or hip replacement," said Jean.

The other leaders said that creates two-tiered medicine.

"The solution is to fix the Alberta system," Prentice told Jean.

"It's not to do what the Wildrose is proposing, which is to simply fund wealthy Albertans to go to the United States to secure their health care."

The Tories are running for their 13th consecutive majority government dating back to 1971.

Prentice's team had 70 seats in the 87-seat legislature at dissolution.

The Liberals and Wildrose had five each. The NDP had four. There were two vacancies and one Independent, Joe Anglin.