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CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Alberta Premier Alison Redford called an election on Monday as the province's ruling Progressive Conservatives look to extend their 41 years in power by overcoming a challenge from the hard-right Wildrose Alliance.
Redford, a Calgary lawyer who took over the leadership of the center-right Conservatives in October following the resignation of former Premier Ed Stelmach, will face her first test at the polls on April 23.
She is opposed by Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, a libertarian and former journalist. Wildrose was formed in 2008 and quickly drew in opponents of Stelmach's policies, particularly his failed attempt to raise royalties on petroleum production.
Alberta is the largest source of U.S. oil imports and rising investment in the oil sands allowed the province to escape the worst of the recession, though government finances slipped into deficit in 2008 after 14 years of surplus.
Redford said she will fight the election on social issues, including increasing investment in healthcare and education.
"In the six months since I was elected premier, we have introduced policies to bring discipline to spending, to support seniors and vulnerable Albertans, to enhance education, and to put health care on a better path forward," she said in a statement. "In this campaign, I will talk about how we build on those foundational policies."
Before the election call, the Conservatives held 67 out of 83 seats in the provincial legislature, while the Liberals, who formed to official opposition in the last election only to founder in the polls, hold 8 seats. The Wildrose Party has 4 members, the New Democrats 2, while the Alberta Party has one seat, and one member sits as an independent.
Reporting by Scott Haggett; Editing by Peter Galloway