'Muzzling' accusations fly
The Alberta election turned into a war of ideas Saturday, with accusations of hidden agendas, stifled opinions, retrograde notions and stolen platform planks.
In Calgary, Progressive Conservative Leader Alison Redford said the Wildrose party wanted to reopen contentious debates on social issues and suggested its candidates were being kept under wraps by the party, a comment that drew a quick rejoinder from Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith.
"I find it hilarious that the PC party, which pioneered muzzling of MLAs, is making accusations against other parties," Smith said in Cardston.
"The only muzzling I'm doing is of my two dogs."
The provincial election has marked the Wildrose party as a rising force, with recent polls showing it solidly in the lead and potentially poised to end the Tories' 41-year reign in power on election day on April 23.
But in recent days, Wildrose has come under fire from its opponents over the issues of "conscience rights" - the ability of civil servants and health professionals to refuse to provide services for moral reasons - and delisting abortion from medicare payments.
Smith has pledged her party won't force women to pay for abortions themselves, a position she has held in the past. However, she left open the possibility that the issue of abortion funding could come forward through a citizeninitiated vote.
Redford questioned why "some pretty basic human rights that were determined in this province about 20 years ago" are being looked at by Wildrose.
"Albertans know what their rights are, and those are rights that have already been determined by courts well before today," said Redford when asked about delisting abortion.
"I find it odd this is becoming part of the conversation. It does trouble me. I don't think it's what Albertans want to be talking about ... some of these issues are settled. The fact that they're percolating bothers me. It bothers me as a woman."
The issue flared up when a letter sent by Wildrose chief administrative officer Jeffrey Trynchy to a Calgary writer this week indicated the party favoured a referendum on delisting abortion. Smith said the statement was incorrect and suggested it was unlikely the issue could even make it through the process to become the subject of a vote.
Redford said she understood that some Wildrose candidates were being muzzled and suggested trust between local candidates and voters would be a key issue in the campaign.
Wildrose Airdrie candidate Rob Anderson said the party's candidates are encouraged to take part in forums and can talk to the media, although they are supposed to check in with the campaign war room before doing interviews.
When asked if any of her candidates with controversial resumes or socially conservative views were being told to keep quiet about those topics, Smith deflected the question.
"One of the things we have come to terms with as a party is that we focus on the things in which we all agree," she said.
"In our party, we have people with a broad range of perspectives, but we don't spend all our time sitting around talking about contentious moral issues. We know Albertans aren't interested in having debates that could stand to rip our province apart. We want to focus on things that will unite us."
Redford announced Saturday morning that a re-elected Progressive Conservative government would introduce a $500 tax credit for children's physical activity at a cost of $36 million and double the current funding for amateur sport from $10 million to $20 million.
"We're investing in the families and the organizations and the staff that are running sports teams and running athletic organizations," she told reporters at the Talisman Centre, with her daughter Sarah, who turned 10 on Saturday, and her husband Glen Jermyn beside her.
But the tax credit matches a promise made by the frontrunning Wildrose, which last week announced its own $500 culture, arts and sports tax credit for children at an estimated cost of $30 million. The party has also pledged a $2,000 children's tax credit at a cost of $130 million.
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman laughingly accused the Tories of more "plagiarism" a day after Redford promised a teachers' tax credit that matched an earlier Liberal promise. The Liberal platform calls for amateur sports funding to rise to $25 million.
Sherman promised Saturday a three-year guarantee against defects in labour and materials, five years on defects in the building envelope and a 10-year warranty against structural defects on new houses and condominiums.
Those guarantees would be among the strongest in Canada, he said.
"Right now, the muffler on your car and your blender has a better warranty than most homes," said Sherman.
Sherman said many homebuilders already do offer warranties on construction.
"There are some, fly-bynighters, who come into the boom and slap up homes really quickly with low quality," he said.
But Redford said the Liberal plan was based on actions already being taken by the PC government. Last month, Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths said legislation on warranties would be presented in the fall sitting of the legislature.
In Edmonton, NDP Leader Brian Mason again accused both the PCs and the Wildrose of having concealed intentions to pursue private health care.
"I don't think we can trust the Progressive Conservatives to protect our public health-care system. They've repeatedly tried to privatize it, they're talking about it behind closed doors, they're doing it again."
"I think their plans and intentions are similar to the Wildrose, however I think that they, from experience, have realized that they don't want to talk about that in the election because it will cost them votes."
Edmonton Journal, Tues Apr 10 2012
Byline: James Wood and Keith Gerein