A few harmless slaps were landed, but last night’s PC leadership debate in Edmonton was no donnybrook

Posted on August 19, 2014, 1:50 am
6 mins

The Three Tory Amigos just before last night’s Edmonton debate. Below: Mr. Lukaszuk, who your blogger says was the debate winner, frontrunner Jim Prentice, and the challenger with the best chance, Ric McIver.

If last night’s Alberta Progressive Conservative Leadership debate in a North Edmonton Ukrainian community hall shows anything, it’s that candidates Ric McIver and Thomas Lukaszuk were slightly better brawlers than leadership frontrunner Jim Prentice.

But you’d expect the two challengers to pile onto the favoured candidate at an event like this – the only forum in the entire leadership campaign not carefully scripted by the PC Party brass and caucus members, who overwhelmingly favour Mr. Prentice’s candidacy.

It was also the only forum to permit a few moments of actual three-way debate among the candidates for Alison Redford’s tarnished crown, an aspect helped by the able moderation of CBC announcer Kim Trynacity.

Anyway, you’d expect Mr. Prentice to tread carefully, especially around the two issues that provided some difficulty for him yesterday – his recent announcement his campaign would be giving away party memberships, instead of selling them as is the party tradition, and his ideas about how Alberta Health Services should be run.

So I’m not sure how much can be deduced about how each of the Tory trio are doing from the few moments of fun the forum provided to the crowd of about 100 people, about half apparently members of the Edmonton Ukrainian community. (A small sleight of hand was managed by the event’s organizers, who moved the debate from a huge room, where the crowd would have looked pathetic, into quite a small one, which seemed impressively packed.)

To turn to the inevitable boxing metaphor, local homeboy Lukaszuk landed a couple of punches, Mr. McIver landed one, but the frontrunner escaped with no obvious bruising. There were no knockouts.

I’d have to respectfully disagree with one professional journalist who said the debate featured “a rowdy shouting match.” Voices were raised, but not for long. Decorum was maintained. As for the heckling heard by another reporter, it was mostly one guy, and he divided his attention between Mr. Prentice and Mr. McIver. I know this because he was sitting right behind me.

On the whole, I’d say all three candidates did OK, although I’d give the contest to Mr. Lukaszuk on points, if only for the best line of the evening, in which he mockingly encouraged “all Albertans to pick up a free membership from Jim and vote for me.”

He followed that up with a clever but harmless tap at Mr. McIver: “This province doesn’t need a Mr. Vague or a Dr. No” – the latter being a reference to Mr. McIver’s nickname as an austerity advocate on Calgary city council and the former a pretty fair description of Mr. Prentice’s approach to most issues.

Cut through the verbiage, though, and there was very little to separate any of the candidates on genuinely important issues other than how to run AHS.

None of them favour changing the oil and gas royalty structure (although Mr. Lukaszuk advocates more value added processing in Alberta), all of them say they want to make peace with Alberta teachers, and all of them advocate some degree of fiscal conservatism.

Not surprisingly, given the venue, all of them think warm thoughts about Ukraine, which Mr. McIver, with an unintended geographical tribute to former U.S. vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, described as our “good neighbour.”

On his call to restore board governance to the AHS and his justifications for giving away memberships when, after all, the party’s rules allow it, Mr. Prentice reminded me for all the world of a earnest Joe Clark trying to explain a complicated point to an inattentive listener.

Interestingly, the loudest cheer of the evening went to Mr. Lukaszuk’s argument the federal Temporary Foreign Workers Program needs to be replaced by real immigrants who get to stay in Canada – but this too was a point of which all three candidates are really in agreement.

The reality is that while a fine time was had by most of the people who bothered to turn out, this contest is going to be decided by membership sales and committed voters – which likely means it’s a fight between Mr. Prentice, with the support of the party establishment, and Mr. McIver, who is emphasizing political niche marketing to committed groups.

This leaves Mr. Lukaszuk without much to show but two thumbs up from Alberta Diary for his modest debating victory last night.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

2 Comments to: A few harmless slaps were landed, but last night’s PC leadership debate in Edmonton was no donnybrook

  1. Sam Gunsch

    August 19th, 2014

    re: ‘None of them favour changing the oil and gas royalty structure ‘

    Because of the lesson taught by Calgary petro-oligarchy to Stelmach and the PC party for his royalty review and plan to raise royalties like Lougheed’s efforts in the 70’s.

    And thus the industry’s continued fleecing of Albertans and our public assets leaves us to debate the depth of cuts to education, healthcare, seniors care, etc.

    Will any AB political party be willing to make royalties from our petro-assets an election issue? Not likely given the price the PC’s paid in loss of donations from industry and damage to the PC brand re loyalty to industry first before the citizenry’s needs.

    In the excerpt below from Saturday’s EJ letters, an effort is made to point out the failure of AB politics to attend to this foundational issue of AB’s governance.

    Redford’s choices were abuses of the public trust. PC’s use of private fleet likewise.

    Yet, given the annual billions, and cumulative billions since Getty, lost to AB’s public purse by our fire-sale royalty rates, AB politics and media coverage are somewhat surreal in their general blindness to what is likely one of the biggest resource rip-offs and abuses by an industry anywhere in the Western world of a citizenry and supposedly democratic jurisdiction, during the last 50 or so years.

    A few have tried to give the issue profile of course. Notably Taft and Nikiforuk. But as Nikiforuk’s analysis points out, petrostate $$$ are often used to corrupt governance. Norway examples are mostly rare.

    Sam Gunsch

    excerpt:
    http://www.edmontonjournal.com/opinion/letters/Saturday+letters+State+Heritage+Fund+should+excite/10122809/story.html

    excerpt: Heritage Trust Fund… “established in 1976 by Premier Lougheed, who reminded the oil companies that the resource they were exploiting belonged to the people of Alberta. When Lougheed resigned as Premier in 1985, the HTF balance was $12.7 billion.

    In 1990, Norway established its sovereign trust fund. Norway’s oil resources are roughly comparable to those of Alberta. Today the HTF is valued at $15 billion, while its Norwegian counterpart is valued at about $900 billion, and growing by $1 billion every week. Norway has an excellent health and educational system and a generous social safety net while we Albertans witness seniors living in dangerous facilities, debate how to cut health, education and social services spending, and load huge debts on our university grads while paying top dollar at the gas pump.

    … Premiers Getty, Klein and Stelmach … forgoing hundreds of billions of dollars in income.”

    Reply
  2. jerrymacgp

    August 20th, 2014

    “…slight of hand…” I think the term you were going for was sleight of hand, a magician’s trick.

    Informative post, however, more so that what was in the MSM. Thank you.

    Meanwhile, on the left, the NDP leadership campaign http://albertandp.ca/leadership2014 is doing a provincial debating tour. They are going to be in Grande Prairie next week, Lethbridge mid-September, Calgary the next day, and Edmonton early in October. NDP memberships are free (no suggested donation amount).

    Reply

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