United Conservative Party leadership candidates squared off for their first debate in Calgary on Wednesday night, offering their views on the carbon tax, defeating the NDP and balancing the provincial budget.

Jason Kenney, Brian Jean, Doug Schweitzer and Jeff Callaway all took turns answering questions from debate moderator Dave Rutherford surrounding three main topics — the economy, the Alberta resource sector and conservatism.

The Alberta advantage

Many of Rutherford's questions to the candidates revolved around the economy and how each potential leader would restore the province's economic edge, or "Alberta advantage."

All four candidates found common ground with their desire to scrap the carbon tax and move Alberta oil to market using pipelines.

Callaway said a focus on natural-gas production could help "jump-start the economy." He also spoke to the importance of finding ways to get Alberta's oil and gas to other markets, including his proposed plan to purchase the Port of Churchill in Churchill, Man.

Kenney said his "job number one" would be restoring confidence in Alberta's economy by appointing a minister to "de-regulate" the province's oil and gas sectors. He also said there should be a focus on attracting new employers from the U.S. to create a "Silicon Valley North."

Schweitzer said income tax relief would "get people investing again." He proposed a flat budget with no spending increases for the first three years.

Jean said he is in favour of removing a cap on oil and gas production, adding he knows "what job creators need" to help build the economy. 

The candidates took aim at B.C. when discussing how they would work to increase Alberta's export capacity for oil, and attract investors to the province.

Kenney said there would "be consequences" for any provinces that "violate the rule of law" and oppose pipelines to move Alberta's oil to market, if he is elected.

Conservativism

The economy aside, a large portion of the debate questions revolved around how the candidates define being a conservative.

The question triggered debate on social issues, including those faced by members of the LGBT community.

Schweitzer spoke to accusations that the UCP is homophobic, calling that description of the party "not fair" and saying that is "not what this party stands for."

More debates

The UCP was formed when the opposition Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties merged in the summer.

There will be four more debates — in Edmonton, Red Deer, Fort McMurray and Lethbridge — before party members pick a leader next month.

With files from The Canadian Press