EDMONTON – Voters in four Alberta ridings go to the polls today in what opposition politicians call a referendum on the Progressive Conservative government.
Premier Jim Prentice is one of the candidates seeking a seat in the legislature in one of three byelections in Calgary. The fourth is in Edmonton-Whitemud.
Prentice called the byelections a month ago after winning the PC party leadership race to replace former premier Alison Redford.
All four ridings have been traditional Tory strongholds.
Prentice, a former Conservative MP and cabinet minister, says he wants voters to focus on the changes he has made to restore public trust following the Redford era.
Redford resigned as premier earlier this year amid revelations she used taxpayer money to fund lavish travel and office perks for her and her inner circle.
The PCs under Redford also failed to follow through on promises to avoid long-term debt, reduce hospital wait times, and build schools.
Opposition politicians are urging voters to not fall for second chances.
“It’s time to send the PCs a message,” reads one ad run by the Wildrose.
Prentice is running in Calgary-Foothills. The riding came open when Independent MLA Len Webber, a former Tory who quit the caucus to protest Redford’s leadership, resigned to run for the federal Conservatives.
Problems with health care and the Tories’ failure to build schools to cope with a growing population have been key doorstep issues.
Tory Education Minister Gordon Dirks is aiming for a win in Redford’s old riding of Calgary-Elbow.
Dirks, appointed last month by Prentice, has been accused of abusing his cabinet position to ingratiate himself with Calgary-Elbow voters.
On Friday, it was revealed Dirks ordered up two modular classrooms for a school, leapfrogging other schools deemed a higher priority.
Dirks has also been photographed turning sod for future schools that have yet to find a builder.
In Calgary-West, the opposition Wildrose party has high hopes for Sheila Taylor, a former trustee and chair of the Calgary Board of Education.
Taylor resigned her trustee seat with the board when she signed up to run.
Voters in the riding have also been upset with the lack of new schools built by the PCs. It came open when former energy minister Ken Hughes resigned to return to the private sector.
In Edmonton-Whitemud, Health Minister Stephen Mandel is seeking a seat in the longtime riding of former PC premier Dave Hancock.
Mandel has name recognition as the city’s former mayor, but has been dealing with public anger over lack of care beds for seniors, bottlenecks in emergency wards, and cancelled surgeries.
Two opposition parties put up health professionals to oppose him. Oncologist Bob Turner is the candidate for the NDP and nursing professor Donna Wilson is the candidate for the Liberals.
The byelection outcomes don’t have the potential to change the balance of power.
The Tories have 57 seats in the 87-seat legislature. The Wildrose has 17, the Liberals five and the NDP four.
A general election is mandated by law to be held in the spring of 2016.