The parties are readying for battle and the first sprinkling of election signs have already appeared. Premier Jim Prentice is expected to call a snap election as soon as Tuesday, plunging Alberta into a race in the midst of stagnating oil prices and economic turmoil.
For months, Alberta's freshman Premier had warned that he would need an election after unveiling a tough, once-in-a-generation budget. Opposition parties and pollsters, however, say there is little appetite for an early vote. And while the budget, unveiled in late March, did raise income taxes for the first time in decades, the lack of deep cuts or the introduction of a sales tax left few Albertans calling for a vote on the document. "This just wasn't the kind of budget that would justify an early election," said Janet Brown, a Calgary-based pollster.
Fighting an election after tabling an unpopular budget with a record $5-billion deficit and increases to 59 taxes and fees will make campaigning a challenge for Mr. Prentice. In a preview of the Tory election strategy, the party went on an advertising blitz in the five days after the budget was introduced, highlighting announcements covering everything from modest improvements to daycare services to providing Alberta's Francophone families with better access to support services.
Mr. Prentice has denied that he or his ministers engaged in pre-election campaigning while making the many announcements on the taxpayers' dime.
Despite the troubles he may face rallying Albertans, observers say Mr. Prentice seems likely to stick with his election plans because it is critical he refresh his party ranks. Many legislators remain associated with the scandals of his predecessor and have been shunted to the backbench.
"This isn't a very strong cabinet and there are a number of weak ministers. His team will look very different in May after he wins," said Duane Bratt, the chair of policy studies at Calgary's Mount Royal University. "There are elections for the good of Alberta and others for the good of the party. This will be an election for the party."
Alberta's Progressive Conservatives have held power for more than 43 years and Mr. Prentice will be seeking the party's 13th consecutive majority government when he does call an election.
While the Tory Leader is widely expected to win a majority, 40 per cent of the Alberta Legislature will either not be running in the next election or will be running under a different party banner – the second largest turnover in the legislature since the PCs took over in 1971.
In all, 25 seats in the coming election will have no incumbents. Among them will be the seats of five of the eight defectors who followed then-Wildrose-Party leader Danielle Smith to join the government. The five either resigned because of blowback from the floor crossing or lost their PC nomination battles. Ms. Smith also lost her nomination bid to run as a Tory.
Among those not seeking re-election will be a number of once-high-profile cabinet ministers under Premier Alison Redford. The party has tried to erase Ms. Redford's legacy after she resigned last year over questionable office and travel expenses.
Ms. Redford's health minister, finance minister and service minister were among those relegated to the backbench when Mr. Prentice was sworn in as Premier last September. All three are stepping down. In a sign of how stretched he was in his search for talent, Mr. Prentice appointed unelected individuals as ministers to the important health and education portfolios.
He now has a number of star candidates ready to run, including Calgary's former police chief, Rick Hanson.
While two recent polls have shown the Tories running neck and neck with the Wildrose official opposition, officials with both parties doubt the numbers.
Mr. Prentice has been warning the province's opposition parties for months to prepare for an election. So far, the Alberta Liberals have nominated candidates for less than half the province's 87 ridings. Officials with the Wildrose say the party, under new leader Brian Jean since March 28, will have a full slate by the end of the second week of April.
Alberta's New Democrats will have a full team by Tuesday.