This is sad. Alberta’s leaders’ debate remarkable for being horribly boring

Anyone tuning in to watch Alberta’s leaders’ debate who might have hoped to watch a battle of the titans will have surely been disappointed. Tonight’s televised leaders’ debate was uninspiring and horribly boring.

New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley did well, spending most of her time on the attack against United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney, but she did not spend much time providing the positive message that some Albertans may have been looking for.

Notley targeted Kenney on a number of issues, ranging from the environment, health care, and homophobia in the UCP but she stopped short of taking him to task like conservative radio host Charles Adler did yesterday. Notley did not have a “math is difficult” moment in this debate.

A similar review can be given to Kenney, who spent much of his time attacking Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for supposedly stopping the construction of pipelines and destroying jobs in Alberta. Kenney focused on the same economic issues that have been his talking points on the campaign trail – jobs, the economy and pipelines – while skirting around questions about controversial social issues, delivering a similar response to the one he gave Alder.

Notley and Kenney are practiced debaters and parliamentarians, but they certainly did not show off the best of their skills in this debate. Their performances were satisfactory but underwhelming.

A shorter summary of the main two party leaders in this debate could be: Notley argued that Kenney will destroy Alberta if he is elected, and Kenney argued that Notley has already destroyed Alberta. Not exactly inspiring messages for Albertans.

Then, there were the leaders of two smaller parties that were invited to participate in the debate.

Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel actually did okay. He focused on differentiating his party from the NDP and UCP, and had a few memorable lines during the debate about being the only business person on stage and chirping in that “this is sad” as his opponents argued.

But if he was looking to break away from the pack, Mandel was unable to channel the Gordon Wilson moment that was needed to give his party momentum going into April 16.

Liberal Party leader David Khan performed well but with his party on the verge of electoral oblivion he has little to lose. The Liberals are also only running candidates in 51 of Alberta’s 87 districts. The profile earned through his appearance in this debate could help Khan in his bid to hold on to the Liberal Party’s last remaining district, Calgary-Mountain View

Missing from the stage was one of Alberta’s more colourful political actors, Derek Fildebrandt of the populist/libertarian Freedom Conservative Party. The former UCP MLA who is running for re-election in Chestermere-Strathmore was not invited and his party has only fielded 24 candidates across Alberta. While most Albertans watching would not have had the option to vote for Fildebrandt’s party, his presence in the debate may have helped to increase the entertainment value of the 90-minute program.

There were a lot of questions the leaders could have been challenged to answer, and the questions asked by the panel of journalists were good, but the free debate format encouraged the leaders to just talk over each other rather than actually debate the questions. There were points during the program where it was difficult to even figure out what was being said.

This year’s leaders’ debate was a sharp reminder that despite the exciting turning point that the debate played in the last election, most televised leaders’ debates are lacklustre and forgettable. This was one night that will not go down in the history books for any positive reason and it is unlikely it changed the minds of many voters in Alberta. 

12 thoughts on “This is sad. Alberta’s leaders’ debate remarkable for being horribly boring

  1. David

    The debate didn”t have a dramatic moment like last time, so maybe not as exciting or interesting, but perhaps at least informative for those voters who are not sure who to support. Most of the party leaders at least articulated some of their ideas and positions fairly well. Yes, there is a lot of negativity in this debare and campaign. I suppose in a way it reflects where Alberta is at right now, it has been a tough few years. Ironically those complaining most about smears and attacks were sometimes doing the same or worse. I think that irony will not be lost on viewers.

    I think also at least it gave the voters a chance to also hear from two smaller parties, although I feel Mr. Fildebrandt should have had a chance too. Both Mandel and Khan put in a credible performance. Mandel may be in the better position to benefit from his appeals to fiscal conservatives tired of bozo eruptions and various UCP scandals. At times, there was another battle within the debate between Mandel and Khan, maybe the fight for 3rd place.

    However I think it is rare campaigns turn on a single debate, so all the leaders will have to continue to work hard in the rest of the campaign to appeal to voters. A bit less negativity all round would be nice but I wouldn’t get my hopes up too much about that. I think it will be a grinding, gruelling race to the finish, I think more a marathon than a sprint.

    Reply
    1. Jerrymacgp

      To be fair to the media consortium, Mr Fildebrandt and his FCP have publicly stated that are not running to form government, and in fact, it is literally, mathematically impossible, by virtue of the limited number of seats in which they are running candidates, for them to form a government. All four of the parties whose leaders were invited to the debate have sufficient candidates running to, at least mathematically, have the potential to form government. Of course, based on that metric, they should have invited the AIP leader. But Fildepockets was excluded on a valid basis.

      Reply
  2. Vince Byfield

    Is it possible that Rachel spent most of her time dissing Jason half-heartedly instead of expanding on her vision for the future for Alberta because in her mind she has no such vision and in her heart she knows that Jason is right? (At least when it comes to the economy.) Rachel is a good person, but I think that — deep down — even she knows that what’s best for Alberta now is a Kenney government.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      Vince Byfield Jason Kenney is not right. He kept on interrupting the others. Given the fact that the Alberta PCs, had been very fiscally foolish, which began to emerge when Peter Lougheed was no longer the premier, and oil prices tanked in 2014, what will Jason Kenney do to make things better? More Ralph Klein era cuts. Not a good move. The UCP simply can’t stop doing the wrong things. The kamikaze debacle sure will sink Jason Kenney and the UCP for good.

      Reply
  3. Tom Polmear

    Thanks again for providing your interesting blog. Nothings as boring as listening to the usual talking heads on mainstream media. But I do agree the needle did not move much after last night’s debate. It should also be pointed out that given the format of these events we should not expect it. 2015 was one of those once in a lifetime moments. With four voices talking over each other it was tough for Notley, though she did get her licks in, to really have a swing at Kenney. Same with Rachel’s positive message. It was there but the take away by a number of commentators seems to be all over the map and an example of selective hearing.

    Reply
  4. Mildred Thill

    I learned a few things about each leader: David Khan is a constitutional lawyer who worked on the pipelines for a summer job and understands First Nations people. Stephen Mandel not only looks old, he is a grandfather to a six year old. If there had been more time, he doubtless would have hauled a picture out of his wallet.
    Rachel Notley has two children and needs to learn about waterproof mascara.
    Jason Kenney has a dad who died waiting for a bed and consequently think we needs to improve wait times for surgeries. Presumably because he has no children or grandchildren, he doesnt give a fig about the future of the climate. Really it all about now, now, now.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      Mildred Thill Jason Kenney’s dad passed away, when the NDP were not in power in Alberta. His father had an illness that was deadly, and that killed him, not wait times. He is using his deceased father to score cheap political points, which is quite sad.

      Reply
    2. Jerrymacgp

      “… Jason Kenney has a dad who died waiting for a bed …” And in fact, that unhappy event occurred long before the NDP was elected to government in 2015, at a time when the PCs were in government and accountable for the funding and outcomes of the health care system. The way he framed it during the debate, which would have led any reasonable person to the inference that it happened during the NDP’s watch, was misleading and deceptive.

      Reply
      1. David

        I don’t know the details of Kenney’s fathers situation, and Kenney didn’t elaborate but I suspect back in Ralph’s era the PC’s might have countered that people die from illnesses not waiting for a bed. I gather his father passed away when the PC’s were in power, but perhaps after Klein, although that is also not clear either. Would have Kenney Sr survived if he got a bed, did he get adequate care while waiting for a bed? These are perhaps the questions that need to be answered, otherwise this is in Kenney’s own words just a “drive by smear” of the health care system.

        We should remember south of the border, the poor don’t die “waiting for a bed”, they just don’t get treatment if they can’t afford it. I suppose it reduces the waiting times for those that can afford it, but then the outcome is not so good for those that can’t. Is that how Kenney would like to solve the “waiting for a bed” problem? Again, he didn’t really elaborate on how he would solve the problem either.

        Reply
    3. Anonymous

      Mildred Thill Jason Kenney’s dad did not die as a result of hospital wait times, but actually from a deadly illness. This happened around 5 years before the NDP took power in Alberta. He misled Albertans, and used his deceased father to try and score political points. The Alberta PCs and the CPC were in power when his father passed away. Sad if Albertans were tricked by this lie (Jason Kenney told many lies during the election debate).

      Reply
  5. Mildred Thill

    I learned a few things about each leader: David Khan is a constitutional lawyer who worked on the pipelines for a summer job and understands First Nations people. Stephen Mandel not only looks old, he is a grandfather to a six year old. If there had been more time, he doubtless would have hauled a picture out of his wallet.
    Rachel Notley has two children and needs to learn about waterproof mascara.
    Jason Kenney has a dad who died waiting for a bed and consequently thinks we need to improve wait times for surgeries. Presumably because he has no children or grandchildren, he doesn’t give a fig about the future of the climate. Really it all about now, now, now.

    Reply

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