Albertans will be heading to the polls on Tuesday and, at a time of economic uncertainty and political upheaval, no one is certain who will be in charge of Canada's Western dynamo once all the ballots are counted.
The Progressive Conservative Party under Leader Jim Prentice could cling to power and extend its nearly 44-year reign despite opinion polls showing an unprecedented three-way race and an appetite for change. The New Democrats' Rachel Notley could ride a surprising ascent her supporters are already dubbing the Orange Chinook. Or the Wildrose Party and rookie Leader Brian Jean could capitalize on anger at the Tories and capture power through a promise of no new taxes.
Mr. Prentice has tried to run on an economic message since he dropped the writ a year early on April 7. However, after a month of ads, daily campaigning and debates, the Tory Leader hasn't been able to shake a four-word comment he made in early March.
"Look in the mirror," he said, when asked who was responsible for the province's fiscal woes. Despite a strong backlash, Mr. Prentice never retracted his statement. Compounded with an unpopular early election call and his role orchestrating the mass floor-crossing of much of the Wildrose opposition, the Tory Leader has faced contentions that he is cold and arrogant.
"There's something about the guy that isn't translating," said Rick Hanson, the former Calgary police chief now running for the Tories. "I don't know what it is; he's a great guy."
Mr. Hanson says he's faced a number of questions about Mr. Prentice and the tough-love plan the Tory Leader has promised will end the province's dependence on oil revenue. "If people say that 43 years is enough and they throw out the best leader and the best plans for the sake of change, then they take a huge risk with potentially the least experienced group of people," said Mr. Hanson, a star candidate for the PCs in northeast Calgary.
Going into the campaign's final day, Mr. Prentice told supporters they have the "momentum across the province." He has said only he can stop the NDP. His organizers say they will win another majority, despite lagging in opinion polls.
Tory attack ads have warned that Alberta's future prosperity is at risk if the NDP is elected. On Friday, a group of Edmonton businessmen cautioned that Albertans must "think straight" before casting their ballots.
Ms. Notley has said she isn't fazed by the attacks. Despite holding only four of the province's 87 seats, she says she's ready for power and running on a "platform of hope." She has repeatedly called on Albertans to reject what she calls Mr. Prentice's "politics of fear."
"Our campaign feels good, the momentum is good, the support is great. We're going to keep doing what we're doing," she said Saturday at a rally attended by hundreds at the University of Calgary. "It's spring in Alberta."
Despite some stumbles, NDP support has surged in the final week. In mid-April, only hours after unveiling her party's fiscal plan, Ms. Notley was forced to admit that the New Democrats had made a multibillion-dollar mistake while crunching the numbers and would need an extra year to balance the books.
The party would raise Alberta's corporate taxes from 10 to 12 per cent, just above the rate found in Quebec. Ms. Notley would also create a progressive tax system that would top out at 15 per cent for those making more than $300,000. Alberta currently has a 10-per-cent flat tax. Mr. Prentice also plans to introduce some new brackets for high-income earners.
Dubbed the "Seinfeld campaign" by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi due to the lack of issues, the election took a turn during the sole televised leaders debate on April 23. Mr. Prentice spent the evening with his back turned on the Wildrose Leader, lobbing a barrage at Ms. Notley. The strategy seemed to backfire and Ms. Notley was widely seen as the debate's winner.
The most memorable moment came when Mr. Prentice chided the NDP Leader by saying "math is difficult." Some viewed the comment as sexist; others saw it as further evidence of a tin ear, linking it with the earlier statement where he seemed to blame Albertans for the province's financial mess.
"People really don't like the PC Leader; they don't feel warmth from him," said NDP candidate Joe Ceci while sitting in his Inglewood campaign office. "They don't like the floor crossing he engineered or the budget he's running on. There are a lot of 'don't likes' when people talk about him."
Mr. Prentice will end the campaign Monday evening in Calgary, Ms. Notley will be in downtown Edmonton and Mr. Jean will head to Fort McMurray.