After watching last night’s televised Leaders’ Debate, I am left wondering whether it will even have an effect on how Albertans vote on April 23. In many ways, the Leaders’ Debate felt like a microcosm of the entire election campaign. Here are a few of my initial thoughts on the leaders debate:
Progressive Conservative leader Alison Redford performed well while spending the bulk of the debate on the defensive fending off criticisms from all three of her political opponents. The other parties leaders honed in on issues like the MLA Committee Pay fiasco, which has proven to be a significant weakness for the PC Party in this campaign.
A skilled debater, Premier Redford handled her opponents criticisms well, though I am not convinced her own message was successfully delivered. If this was a big opportunity to turn around her party’s electoral fortunes, she surely did not make it worse.
The main challenger, Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, was on the offensive and kept her eyes focused on the camera during the debate. She performed well, but floundered when providing some shaky and confusing responses to questions about her party’s positions on education and support of citizen initiated referenda.
Ms. Smith is a talented politician and an untested governor, and last night it showed. The debate was her opportunity to make the sales pitch to voters leaning towards her party and undecided voters. I do not think she did that.
He has experienced two previous televised Leaders Debates and in his third NDP leader Brian Mason was a secondary character. He succeeded in clearly differentiating himself from his two (or three, depending how you count) conservative political opponents on policy issues, but the debate steered clear of the issues most important to the NDP in this election (health care and electrical bills being two examples).
Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman was the wild-card entering this debate. I initially believed he was doing well, but as the debate went on, his over-rehearsed soundbites began to fall flat and his body language turned stiff. The Liberals have presented a good platform, but this debate suggests to me that Dr. Sherman might not be their best salesman.
The debate was exciting because we are in the midst of a rare competitive election, but it was not the battle of the titans that it was hyped to be. from the perspective of a viewer it suffered from the sterile television studio format. The set was devoid of life and the entire debate would have benefited greatly from the kind of energy that only a real life audience can create.
My call: There was no clear winner in this debate.