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Parties draw battle lines

<p>With signs printed and supporters galvanized, Alberta’s political parties have shifted into high gear, ready to hit the hustings this week in an election campaign ready to explode with hot-button issues.</p>

Stelmach expected to trigger election




« The premier has a very dynamic campaign planned with lots of events building on themes he’s established over the past year.»





With signs printed and supporters galvanized, Alberta’s political parties have shifted into high gear, ready to hit the hustings this week in an election campaign ready to explode with hot-button issues.



"The premier has a very dynamic campaign planned with lots of events building on themes he’s established over the past year," says Tom Olsen, a spokesman for Premier Ed Stelmach. "He’s not going to mail it in. He very much has a vision for the province."



But opposition parties say the appetite for a change in government has never been greater, with polls showing that a large segment of voters have drifted into "undecided" territory.



When Stelmach triggers an election — expected either today, right after the throne speech, or early tomorrow — he’ll be seeking an 11th consecutive majority for an Alberta Tory party that has ruled for over 37 years.



NDP Leader Brian Mason told a crowd of roughly 150 supporters at Edmonton’s Bellvue Community Centre yesterday that he’s ready to fight a ground war for the average Albertan, defending those left behind during an unprecedented economic boom.



"The high price of rent, the inflation on so many things … means that many people are just hanging on by their fingernails," he said.



Liberal critic Hugh MacDonald says his party will focus on addressing a looming heath-care crisis and environmental issues with the oilsands during the election campaign.



"Many citizens recognize that the Conservatives have taken them for granted and they feel that they’re acting like they have a divine right to rule," he says. "But in a democracy, there is no such thing as political royalty."



The Tories, Liberals and New Democrats all expect to have a full slate of candidates running in 83 ridings before an election is called.




steve.lillebuen@metronews.ca



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