The three candidates vying to lead Alberta's NDP spent their final debate on Thursday slamming the governing Tories and warning of an even worse future should the official opposition break through on the right.
Rachel Notley, David Eggen and Rod Loyola told a packed auditorium at Edmonton's Campus St. Jean that Albertans are ready for a change after 43 years of Conservative governments.
"The Wildrose and the Conservatives don't represent the values of a growing, modern province," Notley said. "We need real change. A new Conservative leader is not change. And a Wildrose government with the same rigid beliefs isn't change either."
The candidates have campaigned across the province through the later summer and into the fall. Thursday evening, they drew their largest crowd for their final formal debate.
They presented a wide range of ideas for changing the province, from rent controls to
increased oil royalties, from a return to a progressive income tax, to higher corporate taxes and a reduction for small businesses.
But they spent most of the evening listing the failures of the Tory government, citing everything from emergency room wait times to a lack of seniors' care, from children who go to school hungry to kids who die while in foster care.
"They have abused the trust of Albertans," Loyola said of the Conservatives, "and now the electorate is hungry for an alternative."
The ideas presented ran the gamut from a higher minimum wage to a provincewide, legislated restriction on class sizes in schools.
All three agreed that problems with the province's health care can be traced directly to the government's long-standing desire to privatize much of the system.
Notley, the MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona, was first elected in 2008 and has served as the NDP critic for education, advanced education, children's services, and the environment.
Eggen has been MLA for Edmonton-Calder since 2012. He also the was the MLA from 2004 to 2008. He taught school in Edmonton from 1990 to 2004 and once served as the executive director of Friends of Medicare, a non-profit society that advocates for public health care.
Loyola, the party's candidate in Edmonton-Ellerslie, is president of the non-academic staff association at the University of Alberta
The NDP holds four of the 87 seats in the legislature. All are in Edmonton.
The party's fortunes have ebbed and flowed over the past three decades. The high point came in 1986, under leader Ray Martin, when the party captured 16 seats. Little more than a decade later, the NDP had been reduced to two seats. In the last election, in 2012, the party finished fourth, winning four seats and taking 9.8 per cent of the popular vote across Alberta.
Brian Mason announced in April that he would resign as leader to make way for what he called "new blood." He was first elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood in a 2000 byelection and became leader four years later.
His replacement will be chosen by party members in a vote on Oct. 18 and 19.