Redford attacks ‘extreme’ Opposition in campaign-style speech

By Darcy Henton and Chris Varcoe, Calgary Herald May 3, 2013 6:19 AM

EDMONTON — Premier Alison Redford continued a campaign-style assault on the Wildrose in a speech to Tory faithful Thursday evening, slamming the official Opposition for its views on climate change and its rejection of borrowing to build schools and roads.

Falling in the polls in the wake of an unpopular budget and facing a PC party leadership review in November, the premier also lashed out at the NDP, saying its opposition at the federal and provincial levels to the Keystone XL pipeline is “a betrayal of Canada’s long-term economic interests.”

In her speech in Edmonton, Redford said the ideological position of the opposition is “quite shocking” and would have had a major impact on Alberta’s efforts to win U.S. approval for the Keystone XL pipeline to carry Alberta bitumen to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

“On one extreme,” she said, referring to the Wildrose, “we have the official Opposition that believes the science of climate change isn’t settled. . . . If we had political parties that held that view in Washington today, Keystone would have been dead on arrival.”

Redford said on the other extreme, there’s the NDP.

The premier said the New Democrats are undermining “the foundations of the strong economy that funds the very services” they “allegedly” exist to defend. She blasted both NDP federal Leader Thomas Mulcair and his Alberta provincial counterpart, Brian Mason.

The first-term Tory premier invoked the names of her modern-day predecessors — Peter Lougheed, Don Getty, Ralph Klein and Ed Stelmach — as she attacked the opposition parties for “trying to sabotage Alberta’s future.”

“Albertans are counting on the Progressive Conservatives to do better than that,” she told 1,400 supporters at her annual leader’s dinner at the Shaw Conference Centre.

“They’re depending on us to do what we have always done: To provide honest and accountable leadership. And leadership means doing the right thing — even when it’s not popular.”

Redford boasted her government has announced 30 new school projects across Alberta this week, including nine in Calgary, but goaded the Wildrose for its criticism of the government’s decision to go $17 billion into debt to pay for new infrastructure.

“Unlike the opposition’s ‘build-nothing’ approach, we know that we can’t afford to stop building,” Redford added.

Earlier this week while announcing new schools, the premier told crowds of schoolchildren, parents and dignitaries in surprisingly partisan speeches that the Wildrose would not build anything if they won power.

On Thursday morning, she defended her attacks on the Wildrose in front of schoolchildren when asked by reporters about them in Edmonton.

“I make no apologies for reminding people of what we offered last year in the provincial election,” Redford said. “It’s the reason we were elected as the government. We will continue to deliver for Albertans.”

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said Redford’s comments about the Wildrose at the Edmonton school Thursday were “openly mocked” on Twitter.

“To say we wouldn’t build anything at all is an over-statement that makes her look a little bit ridiculous,” Smith said in an interview. “Quite frankly, I think it is a bit undignified.”

Smith said Redford’s comments are being made out of desperation.

“She is facing a leadership review in the fall because of her bad decisions and she is trying to deflect attention away to us,” said the official Opposition leader.

“It’s not our fault she campaigned on things she couldn’t deliver. It’s not our fault she has a $5.5-billion debt. It’s not our fault the cuts she is making are to the front lines. These are all things she has to wear.”

NDP Leader Brian Mason, who attended the new schools announcement in Calgary this week, said he was surprised to see the premier use the event to aggressively attack enemies of her government.

“I’ve never seen before an announcement of a bunch of projects, new schools — surrounded by schoolchildren and all this — and it was just a campaign-style attack on what she calls the opposition, but she means the Wildrose,” Mason said Wednesday.

“My thought was this was a campaign speech, this was a campaign event and the campaign, I think, ends in November.”

The latest announcements on school construction come as opinion polls show the Progressive Conservatives have slipped behind the Wildrose in popular support. A Leger Marketing poll last month found the Tories with 29 per cent support among decided voters, compared with 37 per cent for the Wildrose.

Redford, who captured the PC leadership in fall 2011 and won a decisive majority government a year ago, has an approval rating of 26 per cent.

Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt said it’s highly unusual in Alberta to see a Tory premier openly criticize an opposition party at a government announcement, noting former premier Ralph Klein “wouldn’t even look at them, let alone acknowledge them.

“She’s clearly aiming herself at Wildrose — that’s where she’s feeling the heat — as well as her own leadership review in November,” he said.

“So that’s why I think she’s doing this while other (past) premiers didn’t feel the need to do so.”

By focusing on the differences over education policy and building infrastructure — a key plank in the Tory platform last year — Redford’s strategy could be successful, but it carries some risk, Bratt added.

“I find it a bit unpleasant, especially when you’ve got all of the little kids gathering in front of you and half your caucus standing behind you, to use that as a political backdrop. But I think there’s a reason she’s doing it,” he said.

“There’s kind of a subtext that Wildrose doesn’t like education, Wildrose doesn’t like children, look at me.”

Pollster Marc Henry with ThinkHQ Public Affairs said the new strategy is designed to help bolster Redford’s support with the public, but with an eye toward speaking to Tory delegates who will vote at the November leadership review.

“They’ve definitely got a campaign feel about it now,” Henry said. “This is the start of the leadership review vote campaign. It’s about shoring up her support within the party.”

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