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'Optimistic' Alberta throne speech could set stage for election call

The moment Lieut.-Gov. Lois Mitchell finishes reading the speech from the throne at the Alberta legislature Monday afternoon, the election watch will begin.

Premier Rachel Notley intends to call the spring vote by the end of May

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley makes her way through the crowd during a rally in Edmonton. Notley was nominated as the NDP candidate for Edmonton-Strathcona on Sunday. She plans to call a provincial election by the end of May but the writs could be issued for a vote in mid-April as soon as this week. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

The moment Lieut.-Gov. Lois Mitchell finishes reading the speech from the throne at the Alberta legislature Monday afternoon, the election watch will begin.

Premier Rachel Notley makes the decision about the date of the spring provincial election. She could call it any time, even later today.

Throne speeches typically lay out the government's agenda for the upcoming legislative session. But in this case, the speech could set the agenda for the upcoming campaign.

"It's positive," Notley told reporters about the tone of the speech following her nomination as the NDP candidate for Edmonton-Strathcona on Sunday.  "It's optimistic and it's about building a strong, united Alberta."

The news stories about the United Conservative Party's leadership campaign in 2017 that have emerged over the last 72 hours will no doubt be a factor in Notley's decision on when to call the vote.

UCP leader Jason Kenney has faced increased questions about his campaign's relationship with the campaign of 2017 leadership candidate Jeff Callaway. Both men have denied Callaway ran with the sole purpose of attacking leadership contestant Brian Jean on Kenney's behalf.

Notley was purposefully vague about election timing when asked by reporters. All she would confirm is that Albertans will go to the polls by the end of May.

"I've been very clear all along that we will follow the law in terms of the timing of the election," she said. "And if I were to have my calendar driven by the timelines around RCMP investigations into conservative wrongdoing then we'd never have an election."

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On Friday, CBC News revealed that Alberta Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson had forwarded to the RCMP an investigation into irregular financial contributions to the Callaway campaign.

Kenney told reporters that same day that his 2017 campaign wasn't "paying attention to how other people were funding or running their campaigns."

On Saturday, CBC News released a story based on leaked internal UCP documents which showed the Kenney and Callaway leadership campaigns had collaborated.

Kenney's denials prompted Notley on Sunday to accuse him of lying and lacking integrity.

The documents reveal one of Kenney's campaign staffers, Matt Wolf, now Kenney's deputy chief of staff, provided the Callaway campaign with strategic political direction, media and debate talking points, speeches, videos and attack advertisements.

Former Callaway communications manager Cameron Davies said the campaigns decided ahead of time when Callaway would drop out of the race and back Kenney.

Davies said the Kenney campaign actively worked to recruit a "stalking horse" candidate to attack Jean. Former UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt, now the leader of the Freedom Conservative Party, was approached but deemed unsuitable.

Davies says Kenney was at a meeting where the plan was conceived to run Callaway and collaborate with his campaign.

Kenney has so far remained silent about Davies's allegations and the information in the leaked documents

UCP executive director Janice Harrington said in an email that the discussions between the campaigns was "perfectly normal in a preferential ballot election and was within the rules of the 2017 UCP leadership election."

  • Alberta Votes 2019: CBC News brings you all the news, analyses and columns you need for the election

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