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Good morning, Mark Iype in Edmonton today.

What a week it was. By week I mean Thursday.

On most campaigns, when there is a scheduled election debate, political parties close up shop as leaders huddle with their teams and prepare to face off against their opponents. But not this time.

On Thursday, the United Conservative Party was forced to deal with a couple of controversies that threatened to overshadow the first one-on-one meeting between UCP Leader Danielle Smith and New Democrat Leader Rachel Notley.

First, provincial Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler released a 17-page report that concluded that Ms. Smith, as premier, contravened the Conflicts of Interest Act after she tried to influence the Minister of Justice in a way that would benefit a street preacher charged for his role at the border blockade near Coutts, Alta., in early 2022.

The scathing report said the interference could be seen as a “threat to democracy.”

“It is the first step toward the type of judicial system often found in a non-democratic or pseudo-democratic country where members of, and friends of those in power are shielded from prosecution or are acquitted by the courts on the instructions of those in power,” Ms. Tressler wrote.

The ethics probe also found that Ms. Smith and members of her staff repeatedly asked Justice Minister Tyler Shandro and members of his office for updates on legislative options to provide amnesty in COVID-related cases, something she had campaigned on.

Mr. Shandro, who has not spoken publicly about the matter, resisted pressure from Ms. Smith, and stated that she was passive-aggressive during a January call, according to the report.

While the report did exonerate Ms. Smith and her office of any contact with Crown prosecutors, it was a major rebuke just hours before the debate.

As Kelly Cryderman writes in her column, the parallels to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his dealings with SNC Lavalin were very similar. And while the Ethics Commissioner did sanction Ms. Smith, as the Premier herself pointed out in 2019: “The problem is, without consequences, you can be sure it will happen again.”

The second controversy was the UCP being forced to deal with a candidate who made outlandish transphobic statements attacking children that raised the ire of ... well, almost everyone. An audio recording of the comments by Jennifer Johnson, the UCP candidate in Lacombe-Ponoka, surfaced earlier in the week but by Thursday, the party was forced to make a decision.

Finally, Ms. Smith made a statement that Ms. Johnson would not be allowed to sit in her party’s caucus should she win her seat in the May 29 election saying she “used offensive language and a vile analogy when speaking about the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, for which she has apologized.”

The UCP Leader added: “Although there are certainly legitimate policy discussions to be had on youth transgender issues, the language used by Ms. Johnson regarding children identifying as transgender is simply unacceptable and does not reflect the values of our party or province.”

By Friday, the UCP Leader did open the door to her rejoining caucus at some point saying “redemption” is possible.

After all that, a debate did happen. While who you think the winner was probably depends on who you support, the province is set up for a mad dash toward voting day on May 29.

Whether you favour Ms. Notley (read Alanna Smith’s profile of her here) or Ms. Smith (read Kelly Cryderman’s profile of her here) the stakes are high as they look to woo voters in the final week of campaigning.

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief Mark Iype. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.

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