The Canadian Press

Edmonton: Alberta voters head to the polls Tuesday as Premier Jim Prentice and his Progressive Conservatives seek to stave off challenges from both the NDP and the Wildrose party.

A victory would secure a 13th consecutive majority government for the Tories, who have governed since they swept the Social Credit party out of office 44 years ago. The Socred dynasty lasted 36 years.

Prentice was upbeat as he and his wife Karen arrived to vote in his constituency, Calgary-Foothills.

He declined to take questions from reporters, simply saying it felt like a beautiful day for an election.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley voted at an advance poll. She fought back tears Tuesday as she thanked a handful of rowdy volunteers at a home on the southside of Edmonton.

“We’ve got this thing that’s going and we may have a major, major breakthrough,” she said, pausing and fanning her face with her hands as she tried to keep her emotions in check.

“That’s exciting but … if it happens it’s going to happen because of the kind of work that started here.”

Liberal Leader David Swann carried his four-year-old grandson on his shoulders as he went to vote in his riding of Calgary Mountain-View.

He said the Liberals could play a deal-making role if there is a minority government.

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean is to vote in Fort McMurray this afternoon.

Prentice dropped the writ on April 7 _ a year earlier than necessary under Alberta law _ saying he needed a mandate to implement a tough budget that proposes sweeping increases in taxes and user fees and cuts in government spending. The goal is to stop Alberta’s heavy reliance on fluctuating oil prices for its revenue.

It was supposed to be a victory lap for the premier, whose party held 70 of 87 seats at dissolution. The Wildrose and the Liberals were both coming off leadership changes and the NDP had never won more than 16 seats in an election.

It hasn’t worked out that way.

The Opposition Wildrose has criticized Prentice for not going far enough with spending cuts and has promised it would not raise any taxes. Leader Brian Jean has promised to balance the budget by 2017 through cuts to scores of management jobs, reprioritizing building projects and holding the line on taxes.

The New Democrats have criticized Prentice for going too far with cuts, while sparing corporations from tax increases. NDP Leader Rachel Notley has said she could balance the books by 2018 through increased taxes on corporations and the wealthy, while still spending more on health and education.

Prentice has ridiculed both plans as unrealistic.

Campaign polls have suggested the NDP will have a strong showing in Edmonton and the party hopes to have a breakthrough in the traditional Tory fortress of Calgary. Wildrose support continues to be concentrated in rural areas outside the two large cities.

Notley has had momentum since the leaders’ debate that most pundits say she won. She attracted more than 1,000 cheering supporters to a rally in Edmonton over the weekend.

The Liberals, under interim leader David Swann, ran a low-key campaign that promised to fix long wait times for health care and improve social services for young and old. Swann has said his party may be able to work with the New Democrats in a minority government situation, if it wins seats.

The PCs, the Wildrose and the NDP have all had to deal with controversy during the campaign.

Prentice asked his justice minister to quit cabinet in mid-campaign after Jonathan Denis became embroiled in civil proceedings with his wife that included unproven accusations of violence.

The Wildrose cut loose a Calgary candidate over a blog post deemed offensive to gays.

A Medicine Hat NDP candidate resigned after being charged with assault while campaigning.

Voter turnout, typically low in Alberta, could improve if advance polls are any indication. The chief electoral officer said advance voting was up 31 per cent over the last election.


© 2015 The Canadian Press