Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has called an election for April 16, launching a 28-day election campaign that will be focused heavily on the province’s oilpatch and its struggle to build new pipelines.
Notley dropped the writ Tuesday, one day after Alberta's spring legislative session began.
"The question is this: do Albertans stick together or do we turn on each other?" she said to supporters at Calgary's National Music Centre.
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"Jason Kenney wants two Albertas — one for the wealthy and one for the rest of us. He wants two Albertas divided over people's rights," she said. "I want to continue to build one Alberta."
The writ drop comes two days after United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney's leadership bid came under fire after allegations of collusion surfaced.
Documents obtained by CBC and Toronto Star revealed that members of Kenney's team orchestrated his rival Jeff Callaway's campaign during the 2017 leadership race by providing speaking notes, graphics and other materials — all aimed to attack former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, who was Kenney’s biggest rival.
The RCMP and the Alberta election commissioner are investigating the matter, as well as the allegations that Callaway’s campaign was fuelled by illegal donations.
Kenney has denied any wrongdoing, saying that working with opponents in a leadership contest was "nothing unusual."
Notley's New Democrats will be seeking re-election after taking power in 2015 and ending decades of conservative leadership in Alberta.
The NDP currently holds a majority government with 52 seats compared to the UCP's 35.
In a throne speech Monday, the NDP government touted its accomplishments over the last four years — from building schools, roads and hospitals to providing more supports for seniors, students and those in need.
The spring provincial election will also be a first for Kenney, a former federal cabinet minister under former prime minister Stephen Harper, and the United Conservative Party, which was formed to unite the right by merging the Alberta Tories and the Opposition Wildrose Party.
Kenney responded at an event, standing in front of men with hard hats.
He suggested that a pact between Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau since she became premier in 2015 has resulted in a destructive carbon tax in Alberta, a failure to secure even one pipeline to transport the province's oil and the loss of billions of dollars in potential business investment.
"This campaign is not about politics. It's about people," Kenney said. "The people who have been damaged by the ideological, job-killing policies of the NDP government and their alliance with Justin Trudeau."
Kenney said a United Conservative government would immediately kill the provincial carbon tax and would be "obsessed" with the economy and creating 55,000 new jobs.
He also said his government would be more willing to stand up to Trudeau to get a coastal pipeline completed and would push for a constitutional referendum on equalization if that doesn't happen "to assert our fight for fairness to the top of the national agenda."
"We would stop the NDP's approach of apologizing and surrendering and we would start a new approach of fighting for Alberta."
Meantime, the UCP leader has been receiving messages of goodwill from conservative leaders across the country, including Ontario Tory MPP Lisa MacLeod.
Best wishes @jkenney!!— Lisa MacLeod (@MacLeodLisa) March 19, 2019
The provincial election will focus largely on the economy, as tens of thousands of workers in the oil patch have lost their jobs amid layoffs and bankruptcies.
As premier, Notley has advocated for more pipelines, notably pushing for the federal government's purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline. She has also threatened to cut off oil to provinces that block pipeline projects, such as British Columbia.
"Pipelines will be central," she told reporters after her rally on Tuesday, noting her government's work on convincing Ottawa to purchase it and "pushing the dial" on the issue across the country.
“We are closer than ever to getting the pipeline built and I promise you that I will not stop until the job is done,” she said.
Kenney has promised to fight the federal government, other provinces and environmentalists, who he believes have stood in the way of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and other pipeline projects.
UCP has 'a racism problem': Notley
In her announcement, Notley focused her attention on the controversies surrounding Kenney and the UCP, and spoke directly to disaffected conservatives.
"A growing number of conservatives here in Calgary and across Alberta are coming to have serious doubts about Jason Kenney as premier," she said.
"The politics of love and hope and optimism always trump the politics of anger, division and fear, and that's why I'm running to be premier," she said.
On Monday, Caylan Ford, one of UCP's star candidates, dropped out of the race after the left-leaning Press Progress news and information site revealed a string of private Facebook messages from two years ago in which she expressed concern about "the replacement of white peoples in their homelands” and suggested “Western culture” would collapse if “another race” takes over in Europe and North America.
The private messages were given to PressProgress "by a long-time Muslim conservative with deep ties to the party who requested anonymity citing the threat of retribution."
In one exchange about the 2018 Charlottesville terror attack, Ford argued white supremacist terrorists face a double-standard compared to other terrorists, according to the Press Progress report.
“When the perpetrator is an Islamist, the denunciations are intermingled with breathless assurances that they do not represent Islam, that Islam is a religion of peace, etc.” Ford wrote. “When the terrorists are white supremacists, that kind of soul-searching or attempts to understand the sources of their radicalization or their perverse moral reasoning is beyond the pale.”
The messages were leaked days after a 50 people were killed in a terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. In a delusional, psychotic rant that many are recognizing to be a "manifesto," the shooter subscribes to the ideas of white supremacy, including the conspiracy theory that immigrants were replacing white people in western countries, and a view that people of colour should not live in those countries.
Notley was asked about Ford's messages and her stepping down from the race at her rally Tuesday morning.
"I don't believe that Jason Kenney is racist," she said. "But, I do believe that the UCP, as a party, has a racism problem."
With files from Canadian Press
Editor's note: This story was updated on March 19, 2019 at 2.25 p.m. ET with additional information about the Alberta vote. It was updated again at 7:00 p.m. with new comments from Jason Kenney.