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NDP Leader Brian Mason makes his way to a residential home to make his platform announcement in Edmonton March 28, 2012, for the upcoming Alberta provincial election. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press/Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)
NDP Leader Brian Mason makes his way to a residential home to make his platform announcement in Edmonton March 28, 2012, for the upcoming Alberta provincial election. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press/Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Trash talk builds as Alberta race heats up Add to ...

Alberta’s New Democrat leader, trailing in the polls, has a message for his counterparts: Play nice.

NDP leader Brian Mason sent a letter to the province’s other four party leaders Friday urging them to avoid personal attacks.

The last week has seen a variety of barbs sent across party divisions:

– Wildrose leader Danielle Smith accused Progressive Conservative leader Alison Redford of not liking Alberta very much;

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– PCs said Wildrose supports drunk driving (because they oppose administrative penalties – such as license suspension for people with a blood alcohol level between 0.05 and 0.08 -when criminal penalties kick in);

– Liberal Leader Raj Sherman crashed Ms. Redford’s campaign stop Thursday;

– Mr. Sherman also talked about the “ugly divorce” between the PCs and Wildrose;

– the PCs published a “What Smith Said” blog about Ms. Smith’s record;

– and the two parties leading in the polls, accused each other of using misleading robocalls.

“I’m writing because I’m concerned about the negative personal tone that has developed in the first five days of this campaign,” Mr. Mason says in his letter, later adding: “The issues are what are important – not personal attacks.”

Despite his rosy hopes, there’s little sign that tactics will change in a race expected to be a fight to the finish. The PC leader, for one, has also pledged a clean campaign (only to see her campaign staff accused of using dirty tactics).

“I think it is important to talk about the issues that matter to Albertans, and we’ll keep doing that,” Ms. Redford said Friday at a campaign stop in Leduc, Alta. She has kept out of the mud, never mentioning her opponents by name on the campaign trail, while her campaign staff attack Wildrose and put out what some call push polls – telephone surveys designed to scare people off a certain party. Ms. Smith’s own father got one.

PC campaign strategist Stephen Carter rejected the criticism, saying the party’s phone polling is legitimate research on voter opinion. “I don’t want this tone to get too nasty, but [Mr. Carter]is doing this work in a way he thinks is important for our campaign,” Ms. Redford said this week.

Wildrose, meanwhile, is no stranger to attack politics – in the week before the election, house leader Rob Anderson called Ms. Redford “spineless” during question period.

Alberta’s election has developed into a horse race more quickly than many expected – some polls show Wildrose and the PCs neck and neck, while others give Wildrose a lead. Voter turnout is expected to be higher than in 2008, when it was a dismal 40.6 per cent. A negative tone may, however, hurt turnout if it scares off new voters.

The upstart Alberta Party, which isn’t fielding a full slate but has high hopes in a handful of ridings, is built on the notion of “doing politics differently.” The negative tone so far is hurting turnout, said Sue Huff, an Alberta Party candidate who also served as interim leader. “The way it’s being done is turning people off,” Ms. Huff said.

Follow on Twitter: @josh_wingrove

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