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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith speaks at the United Conservative Party AGM in Edmonton on Oct. 22.AMBER BRACKEN/The Canadian Press

The contours of Alberta’s coming general election took shape over the weekend as the province’s two dominant political parties hosted duelling annual meetings, where their leaders emphasized nearly identical priorities: affordability, health care and the economy.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith addressed a crowd of about 1,600 energized United Conservative Party members near Edmonton, with her promise to push back against Ottawa drawing an extended standing ovation, punctuated by whistles and cheers.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley, who served as premier for one term until the newly formed UCP took power in 2019, sparked cheers from the 1,200 delegates gathered in downtown Calgary when she promised to repair the public-health system.

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The province’s next general election is scheduled for May, 2023, and the weekend conventions doubled as unofficial campaign launches for both parties. The rival leaders made early promises that, despite their political differences, were nearly indistinguishable. Ms. Smith said she would consider removing the provincial fuel tax to ease the pressure caused by inflation, while Ms. Notley said she would ditch the same tax until inflation is contained. The parties blame each other for the struggles facing Alberta and its residents, with Ms. Smith also implicating Ottawa.

The Premier, speaking at the River Cree Resort and Casino, located on the Enoch Cree Nation immediately west of Edmonton, reiterated her plans for a proposed sovereignty act – legislation that she says will give Alberta the power to reject federal laws when the province believes Ottawa is interfering in its jurisdiction.

“When Ottawa announces policies and laws that attack our economy or violate the rights of our people, or when Ottawa seeks to take control of our sovereign areas of provincial jurisdiction, our UCP government will not enforce those laws or policies in this province,” she told the crowd.

“I did not campaign by saying things to win your favour and your votes only to change the channel on you later. We will get this done.”

Ms. Smith, during the leadership race to replace former premier Jason Kenney, said the sovereignty act would be her first bill when the legislature resumes. She won the race earlier this month, and is running in a Nov. 8 by-election in Brooks-Medicine Hat so she can introduce the bill herself.

The UCP Leader’s speech at the annual meeting did not address the other key theme of her leadership campaign: COVID-19. Ms. Smith made no mention of vaccine mandates or public-health restrictions, which she opposes.

While Ms. Smith avoided discussing the pandemic, the fallout from COVID-19 did play a role at the annual meeting. Nine of the provincial board’s 17 seats were up for grabs and all of the newly elected directors had support from Take Back Alberta, a right-wing group dedicated to protecting personal liberties that helped push out Mr. Kenney, as it opposed his public-health restrictions designed to contain COVID-19.

The Premier told supporters the government would lower the cost of electricity, but did not indicate how. She promised to “immediately index and lower your taxes,” although it is unclear whether a cut is in the works or if she was strictly referring to indexing. Mr. Kenney had previously announced a plan to index provincial taxes to inflation after ending the practice earlier in his term.

The UCP Leader said the province will also explore eliminating its fuel tax and ensure gas stations pass along the savings to consumers.

Ms. Smith blamed inflation on the federal government, which she characterizes as an “NDP-Liberal coalition.” She has attempted to link the federal Liberals’ confidence-and-supply agreement with the New Democrats, which is not a coalition, to Ms. Notley.

“Come hell or high water, we are going to beat the NDP in 2023,” Ms. Smith said.

Meanwhile, three hours south in Calgary, NDP delegates gathered at a downtown hotel for the largest convention in their party’s history.

Ms. Notley, in an interview with The Globe and Mail during the convention, said her focus for the next seven months is not to attack the UCP and its new leader but to pitch Albertans on the NDP’s policies. She acknowledged the challenge of garnering support in rural areas.

“You need to connect with people. They need to see themselves in you,” the NDP Leader said. “You need to hear what their concerns are and be able to translate them into an authentic answer.”

Ms. Notley, in her speech Saturday, criticized the UCP for wreaking havoc on the health care system and being too distracted by internal issues to address the concerns of Albertans. She refrained from mentioning Ms. Smith by name during her speech but said, in an interview, that the UCP Leader is using tired jabs to undermine the NDP.

“My record stands for itself,” Ms. Notley said. She stressed that the provincial party is entirely independent from its federal counterpart, led by Jagmeet Singh.

“Do I agree with him on energy policy? Nope. Do I agree with them and others that we must act effectively to reduce emissions? Yes. Will I ever say that that needs to be done at the expense of Albertans? No.”

In her speech, Ms. Notley said an NDP government would be committed to putting money back in Albertans’ pockets by introducing a cap on utility bills and putting a freeze on auto insurance rates. She also said much of the party’s attention would be on strengthening the public-health system and primary and postsecondary education.

Ms. Smith and Ms. Notley both want to address the crisis in the health care system, including long wait times and overwhelmed workers. Ms. Smith said she will hire a new chief executive officer for Alberta Health Services and replace its entire board with an interim health commissioner, in addition to a vague promise to decentralize control of health care delivery. Ms. Notley offered limited details of the NDP’s plan but hinted at primary care investments, support for front-line workers and a large recruitment campaign.

The NDP Leader said the party had not always been seen as a leader in the economy but that they have done a lot of “heavy lifting” to build thoughtful policy in the area. The NDP announced on Friday that it had brought on Todd Hirsch, the former chief economist at Alberta Treasury Branch, the provincial government-owned bank, to advise the party on economic issues.

“We have the money and the momentum,” Ms. Notley said. “We are ready to win.”

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