Overshadowing the evening was the recent passing of candidate Alison Redford‘s mother, who had been admitted into the hospital in High River the day before. Despite what must have been an incredibly difficult day, Ms. Redford demonstrated personal strength and delivered a strong performance during the debate. She was also the only candidate not to refer to notes during the course of the debate, only glancing at her notes during her opening and closing remarks.
None of the three candidates hit a home run during the debate, but each of the candidates demonstrated their own strengths and solid speaking skills. Each of the candidates highlighted their experience, both at and away from the cabinet table.
Unlike the 2006 leadership contest, where there were very obvious ideological and policy differences between the top three candidates, the three candidates standing at the podiums last night share similar political space within their party, with some notable exceptions.
Over the course of the hour-long debate, Ms. Redford and Doug Horner honed their criticisms on first-ballot front-runner Gary Mar. A seasoned politician of almost 20 years, Mr. Mar was quick to fend off criticisms of his support for privatized healthcare and his quiet acceptance of more than $400,000 in MLA transition allowance when he became Alberta’s chief lobbyist in Washington D.C. Both Ms. Redford and Mr. Horner took positions that health care can be improved from within the public system, rather than introducing more for-profit health care. They also raised the issue of trust in reference to Mr. Mar’s transition allowance flip-flop.
Mr. Mar played the front-runner game during the debate, saying a lot without actually saying much. Mr. Mar is intelligent and articulate, but his highly staged campaign has given him the air of an overly polished professional politician. He took every opportunity to remind the viewers that unlike his two opponents, he did not sit at Premier Ed Stelmach‘s cabinet table (though most of that cabinet table is now supporting Mr. Mar).
Ms. Redford and Mr. Horner used the debate to differentiate themselves from Mr. Mar on issues including health care, education, municipal affairs, and the oilsands. Mr. Mar earned 40% on the September 17 first-ballot vote, which presents a tough challenge for any candidate trying to close that lead. Is it impossible? No. Is it improbable? Maybe.
PC members will vote in a second-ballot preferential vote on October 1. If no candidate receives more than 50% on the second-ballot, the third place candidate will be dropped off and their second place votes will be redistributed among the top two candidates.