Tonight is the only Leaders’ Debate of the 2008 Alberta Provincial Election. The debate will be televised on CBC, CTV, and Global from 6:30-8pm. Here’s my rundown of what to watch for from the party leaders:
Ed Stelmach, Progressive Conservatives: It is no secret that Ed Stelmach is not a strong public speaker. Many political watchers have been predicting that his debate performance will mirror the first week of the Tory campaign, I am going to disagree. Though I don’t think Stelmach is a decent debater by any stretch of the imagination, I do think that because the expectations are so low for him that an even moderately okay performance by Stelmach will be seen as a win for him (regardless of how painful the experience is for both Stelmach and viewers).
This will be the only debate that Stelmach will participate in during this election. According to his campaign manager, George Sebest, “the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, Premier Stelmach, will debate only other party leaders in provincial forums,” meaning that Stelmach will be a no-show at the all-candidate forums in his constituency of Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville.
Kevin Taft, Alberta Liberals: In the 2004 televised debate, Kevin Taft performed well against Ralph Klein and Brian Mason, but Ed Stelmach introduces is an untested dynamic in a televised debate. This debate is Kevin Taft’s chance to shine and convince Albertans that he is indeed a Premier-in-waiting. If he can do this without falling into the trap of sounding too stiff and academic and he is able to connect with viewers in a confident Premier-like fashion, he just might be able to convince Albertans that, after 37-years of Tory rule, it’s time.
Paul Hinman, Wildrose Alliance: After being excluded from the Leaders’ Debate under his previous leader in in the 2004, Paul Hinman has won points by just being included in the debates. If Hinman is able to get a word in edge wise and communicate a competent message, this will be a personal win for him.
Brian Mason, New Democrats: Mason issued a challenge to the other party leaders to stick to the issues during the debate. I agree this is a great idea, but I’ll be looking to see if Mason actually sticks to his challenge. Expect Mason to go after Kevin Taft as much or even more than he takes aim at Ed Stelmach. If his party is going to gain seats in this election it will be at the expense of the Taft Liberals in Edmonton, not of the Stelmach Tories.
George Read, Alberta Greens: Unfortunately, George Read was not invited to participate in the debates (I would have supported Read’s inclusion in the debates). Instead, Read will be contributing to the debates through a YouTube video cast following the election. Make sure to check it out.