More than 350 Progressive Conservative supporters packed into the main hall at Vermilion’s Lakeland College Campus to hear and ask questions to the six candidates seeking the leadership of Alberta’s governing party.
The format of the debate only allowed each candidate a short 30 seconds to respond to questions. Instead of encouraging direct answers, it limited the candidates responses to quick soundbites, leaving many of the questions to be simply unanswered. This visibly frustrated some of the candidates, most notably Alison Redford who attempted numerous times to delve into details only to have her mic cut off at the 30 second mark.
The only candidate this seemed to help was Gary Mar, who rattled out 15 second soundbites with ease. Unfortunately, this also meant that he said very little of substance during the entire evening. “Alberta is a beautiful garden of flowers”, “forged in the fire of fiscal fury”, and “opportunities in agriculture are sensational” are not exactly policy positions. His soundbite-style responses were an unfortunate distraction and, in my opinion, downplayed his intelligence.
The limiting format aside, it was interesting to watch how the candidates are positioning themselves in the group. As this was the first of seven all-candidates forums planned to be held across Alberta, the candidates were fairly collegial to each other. It will be interesting to see if this changes as the September 17 first ballot vote approaches.
Each of the candidates spoke against the lay-off of over 1,000 teachers province-wide. Rick Orman accused the government of breaking its word, saying that “a deal is a deal.” Doug Griffiths compared the lay-offs to “selling the topsoil off the farm.”
When asked if any of the candidate would support provincial funding for billionaire Daryl Katz‘s planned downtown Edmonton arena, each of the candidates answered with a definitive “no.” Ted Morton led the group consensus, saying that schools and hospitals, not expensive sports facilities, should be the provincial government’s funding priorities.
Peddling another non-starter issue at the forum was a group of sad looking volunteers representing Envision Edmonton. The lobby group failed to stop the phased closure and re-development of the City Centre Airport lands during the 2010 municipal elections and has been living in a self-imposed exile in Vermilion ever since. They also failed to ask the leadership candidates any questions about their issue at the forum.
Dr. Morton was the only candidate to take a more than veiled shot at the outgoing Premier Ed Stelmach, saying that the 2007 Royal Review was his party’s biggest mistake and that under his leadership the government would return to Ralph Klein-style fiscal planning. Considering that Dr. Morton was a key player in forcing Premier Stelmach to resign, it is not surprising that he took the most aggressive stance against the Premier’s agenda.
Doug Horner told the audience that he believed his party’s biggest problem has been the failure to engage their grassroots in a meaningful way. In his closing speech, he reminded the crowd about his family’s connection to the PC dynasty and the role his father, Dr. Hugh Horner, played in building the PC Party with Peter Lougheed.
This weekend, I will write a post that compares and contrasts the two leadership forums I attended this week (the other being the Liberal Party forum).