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.
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.
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.
Standing in front of diverse group of supporters at the National Music Centre in Calgary, Premier Rachel Notley announced that Alberta’s next provincial general election will be held on Tuesday, April 16, 2019.
Notley’s campaign kick-off speech gave a good idea what the New Democratic Party’s narrative will be in this election campaign – creating a clear contrast in character, leadership and trust between Notley and United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney.
“Jason Kenny isn’t working for you. He wants two Albertas – one for the wealthy and one for the rest of us. He wants two Alberta’s, divided over people’s rights,” Notley said.
“I want to build one Alberta. I say we stick together through this final stage – from adversity to recovery to shared prosperity – that we take care of each other,” she said.
As I have written before, campaigns always try to play to their strengths and downplay their weaknesses. This is why the NDP campaign will put Notley front-and-centre and the UCP will not be featuring Kenney logos on their election lawn signs.
The two main party leaders have divergent popularity among voters. While her party is behind in the polls, Notley has fairly respectably approval ratings, making her the NDP’s strongest asset. On the flip side, Kenney’s approval ratings fall far below support for his party, meaning that he is far from his party’s strongest asset in the minds of many voters.
The NDP’s decision to launch the election in Calgary was not a shock, as the party needs to maintain a hold on its seats in Alberta’s largest city if it wants to be re-elected on April 16. At this point, it is hard to believe the NDP will hold most of their seats in Calgary but the governing party is realistically expected to be competitive in 5 or 6 districts in the city.
Notley also spoke about her government’s commitment to education and health care, including the long-overdue construction of the new Calgary Cancer Centre, and the economy and oil pipelines.
The Notley NDP still have an electoral math problem, with the UCP leading in the polls in Calgary and rural Alberta, but after this week’s internal UCP turmoil, the NDP are probably feeling as confident as they ever were going to be before the May 31 deadline to hold the provincial election.
Speaking with a handful of tradesmen standing behind him at a job site in Leduc, Kenney launched his first press conference of the election campaign trying to steer the focus away from Ford’s resignation and the Kenney-Callaway collusion scandal. Kenney returned to his key messages around jobs, the economy and pipelines – and how he believed the NDP have failed in these areas.
Kenney’s message will resonate with a lot of Albertans who have felt unease and frustration with the drop in the international price of oil, high than usual unemployment levels, and delays in oil pipeline construction. And the UCP hopes this message will resonate in the Edmonton region, where the NDP swept almost every seat in the 2015 election.
So, as the election gets going, expect the Kenney to try to stick to these three key messages while the NDP focus on contrasting Notley with her main opponent. Let the games begin!
Elections Commissioner issues new fines for donations to Callaway leadership campaign
Maja McAllister and David Ruiz were issued letter of reprimand for donating $4,000 to Jeff Callaway, registered UCP leadership contestant, with funds given or furnished by another person.
Darcy McAllister was issued one administrative penalties of $4,000 for donating $4,000 to Callaway’s campaign with funds given or furnished by another person, and a second administrative penalty of $4,000 for furnishing $4,000 to Maja McAllister for the purpose of making contribution to Callaway’s campaign, according to the Election Commission website.
Writ Day Hot Take
I spoke with 630CHED host Ryan Jespersen this morning moments after Notley wrapped up her speech announcing the election. Here is my hot take:
Elections Commissioner Lorne Gibson has already issued fines of $15,000 against Callaway’s campaign manager and former UCP nomination candidate, Cameron Davies, and $3,500 against donor Karen Brown. And last week, UCP executive director Janice Harrington announced that Calgary-Beddington candidate Randy Kerr had been removed because he “was not forthright in responding to the Party’s inquiries regarding his financial contribution to the Jeff Callaway Leadership campaign.”
The story comes the day after heavy-hitters from western Canada’s Conservative establishment, most notably Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and former prime minister Stephen Harper, rallied around Kenney following rumours that Jean was preparing to jump back into politics – with the Alberta Party or Freedom Conservative Party.
As Premier Rachel Notleynoted to the media today, if the leader of another major political party was tied up in such an investigation, the UCP would be calling for their resignation. Notley is right, but do not expect Kenney to step aside anytime soon.
With the conservative political establishment rallying to Kenney’s defence, barring criminal charges being laid or Kenney-connected UCP organizers being perp walked in handcuffs, it is unlikely he would step aside because of or even during the course of this potential RCMP investigation. And even if Kenney did step aside, Jean now seems like a very unlikely choice to replace him. The role of interim leader would be a better fit for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Nathan Cooper, who ably filled the role as interim leader during the UCP leadership contest.
An RCMP investigation is serious business and would take time before coming to a resolution, meaning that it would likely not be until after the election that Albertans learn the results of an investigation. I have heard some calls for Notley to delay the election call until after this potential investigation is concluded, pushing beyond Alberta’s unique three-month fixed election window, which seems unlikely but not impossible.
Even with a significant lead in most public opinion polls, the timing of this announcement is bad news for the UCP. It is without a doubt that we will hear leaders and candidates from the other parties use the words “UCP” and “RCMP” in the same sentence very frequently over the next few weeks.
NDP put health care on their pre-election legislative agenda
The Throne Speech and Bill 1: Protecting Public Health Care Act, could be the last big pre-election opportunity for the NDP to push forward an election narrative on an issue that plays to their strengths.
Public health care is traditionally a strong issue for the NDP and stability in the health care system has been a hallmark issue for the NDP government. Health Minister Sarah Hoffman has steered the public health care system clear of the perpetual lurch from crisis to crisis that happened under the old Progressive Conservative governments.
It is unknown how many days or weeks the NDP plan to take for this spring session, but I am told that many NDP staffers and organizers are already “on vacation” from their day jobs working hard on campaigns across the province.
CBC has released a report report with new information related to the collusion between the Kenney and Callaway campaigns during the 2017 UCP leadership contest: “The leaked cache of documents show Kenney’s campaign provided Callaway with resources including strategic political direction, media and debate talking points, speeches, videos, and attack advertisements, all aimed at undermining Kenney’s main political rival, Brian Jean.”
We are in pre-election mode in this episode as Dave and Ryan discuss the health care and education curriculum debate between the New Democratic Party and United Conservative Party, the unsurprising recent Trans Mountain Pipeline report from the National Energy Board, and the latest from the SNC-Lavalin/Justin Trudeau/Jody Wilson-Raybould fiasco.
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