Alberta Politics
The debaters: From left to right, Jason Kenney, David Khan, Rachel Notley and Stephen Mandel (Photo: Screenshot).

Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney escape relatively unscathed in Alberta election leaders’ debate

Posted on April 05, 2019, 2:04 am
5 mins

Last night’s Alberta election leaders’ debate was an unedifying experience, as these things often are.

If anyone except hard-core political junkies kept their hands off the remote, I’d be surprised.

CTV Calgary broadcaster Tara Nelson, moderator of last night’s leaders’ debate (Photo: Twitter).

Debate stuck to talking points we’ve heard before, the broadcast aired at a weird hour when many viewers were still coming home from work, the format made the discussion difficult to follow, moderator Tara Nelson often shouted over participants as she struggled to maintain order, and the panel of four journos asked pedestrian questions. It was cacophonous and irritating.

Worse, there were no epic body slams in which one debater got smashed to the mat by another one, no “math is hard” moment as in 2015. And, let’s admit it, that’s what we’re all hoping for when we sit down to watch one of these things.

The lack of a decisive moment in this debate may be a good thing for the leaders of the two major parties, Premier Rachel Notley, a New Democrat, and Opposition Leader Jason Kenney of the United Conservative Party. No one enjoyed a knockout, but no one got knocked out either. Supporters of both parties can call their leader the winner, and will.

Ms. Notley and Mr. Kenney used strong language to emphasize key points of their campaigns.

Ms. Notley called Mr. Kenney an electoral cheat surrounded by extremist candidates, weak on the environment and health care, and a flop on the pipeline file the whole time he was in Ottawa.

Mr. Kenney called Ms. Notley a tax-and-spend politician, too close to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, ineffective on job creation, and a flop on the pipeline file the whole time she’s been premier.

Ms. Notley sounded as if she was battling a cold. Mr. Kenney sounded as if he were aiming for glib piety and falling short, like a driver with a guilty secret in the trunk trying to talk his way out of a late-night traffic stop.

Whenever either one of them tried to respond to a jab, it seemed as if Ms. Nelson interrupted and asked someone else to speak.

The closest thing to a memorable moment came in the low-stakes side battle between Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel and Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan as they fought it out for a distant third place.

Mr. Khan, a lawyer, accused the Alberta Party of being in favour of privatized medicine. He said he heard it in the radio. Mr. Mandel denied it and said Mr. Khan must have been “smoking things that you shouldn’t have been smoking.”

This was mildly entertaining, but not exactly the stuff of high political drama.

Despite having to deflect a few shots for his past record as a Progressive Conservative cabinet minister, Mr. Mandel, a former mayor of Edmonton, was relaxed and in control as only someone can be who knows the stakes are just incredibly low. Everyone else has more to lose, arguably, in the April 16 election, which is presumably why they seemed more edgy.

Maybe what this debate needed was a shot of Derek Fildebrandt, who never should have been shut out on the spurious grounds used to eliminate him – that his Freedom Conservative Party didn’t run any candidates in 2015. (Note to the “media consortium” that cooked up this single 2019 TV debate: neither did the United Conservative Party.)

Impact? I’d say relatively little.

Pity. There really should be a second debate before we all troop to the polls.

It isn’t going to happen.

11 Comments to: Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney escape relatively unscathed in Alberta election leaders’ debate

  1. David

    April 5th, 2019

    I suppose the debate might have been useful for undecided voters just tuning into the election. At times most of the various leaders did somewhat articulate some of their positions. Yes, the start time was odd and at times it was hard to follow what was being said as the speakers were often being cut off in midstream or being talked over. The format or imoderation of it was not the best.

    I doubt this was ever going to have a knock out moment, both Mr. Kenney and Premier Notley are very expwrienced speakers. It did give a chance, maybe the only one, for both the Albera Party and Alberta Liberals to get their messages across and both came across as capable. There was a bit of a secondary battle between Mr. Khan and Mr. Mandel. I think Mr. Mandel may have had the advantage, as he can better appeal to fiscal Conservatives tired of the UCP’s apparent obsession with social conservative issues and their various leadership vote scandals. Mandel also came across as wiser and cooler headed in comparison to Kenney who often pushed emotional hot buttons a bit too much.

    I don’t think there was any clear winner and didn’t expect there to be. I think the rest of the election campaign will be a gruelling one and the result will come down to the efforts made in the rest of the campaign. In this regard it reminds me of another provincial campaign not so long ago, but not the 2015 one in which the debate did matter more. It is too bad Mr. Fildebrandt was not there, he would have probably made it a much more interesting debate.

  2. ronmac

    April 5th, 2019

    Using a hockey analogy, they played to a 3-3 tie in a sloppy, scrappy contest. It would have been more satisfying if they had overtime to decide a winner, if only to satisfy the blood lust of one side or the other.

  3. J.E. Molnar

    April 5th, 2019

    If you’re scoring this snooze-fest, give the media panel a big fat “F” for frustration.

    Spot on remark Mr. Climenhaga about the journalists and their tepid, perfunctory questioning. No one was prepared to challenge Jason Kenney on his party’s insidious leadership campaign or the plethora of ongoing UCP bozo eruptions that have marred his party since the day of its founding convention. And…where was the Edmonton/Calgary Star? Yes, as polarizing as he is, Derek Fildebrandt should have been invited to participate.

  4. St Albertan

    April 5th, 2019

    The format was something from the past. In our post-modern world we should have seen more time on each policy subject. To me it seemed they were all (yes even master Jason Kenney) vying for the middle. That mushy mess that has produced a province that could a’ should’a’, but didn’t! Yes! We’ve pissed it all away! Not once, not twice, but three times thanks to “conservative” dogma! Now what? More conservative dogma? I’m too old, but my children don’t deserve this! Bury me in the slag piles of Sudbury! I admit to being a mining engineer! I don’t admit to being stupid! Vote NDP! Vote Notely!

  5. Jim

    April 5th, 2019

    Pretty boring show considering all the material available, yes should have invited Derek Fildebrandt.

    So they are all going to build pipelines, Kenney didn’t get any built in his time in Ottawa, Notley hasn’t build any in her time as premier, Khan has actually built a pipeline but it was just a summer job, and Mandel forgot his bow tie. Did I miss anything important?

    I agree a second debate is needed, if for no other reason than Mandel can find his bow tie. It’s like Churchill without a cigar, Lincoln without his hat, or Stockwell without his wet suit. It just seems unnatural, okay maybe not the last one.

  6. Keith McClary

    April 5th, 2019

    Alberta population growth plus inflation is expected to be 3 .5% in 2018-19. That’s 14% by 2023. Kenney says he can cap the budget and hand out big tax cuts without cutting services. His plan to do this? Hire consultants to do audits.

    I wish one of the candidates had called him on this. Math is hard.

  7. April 5th, 2019

    David, is there a live footage of this whole debate? i cannot find it on the web or recorded on news channels.

  8. Bob Raynard

    April 6th, 2019

    I turned it on, was so put off by the talking over each other that was happening that I turned it right back off again. They need some kind of format where the moderator enables only one microphone at a time.

  9. David Grant

    April 6th, 2019

    I agree with David C and the others about the effect of this debate on the outcome of the election. Rachel did her best to make the distinctions between Kenney and herself while Kenney managed to do well enough to not sound very extreme – even though there are many positions in the UCP that seem pretty extreme. The strategy from here is to see which base is more motivated, the UCP or the NDP. The other leaders did okay but they probably didn’t win many new voters. Their parties won’t make much of a difference on this election and it will be interesting to see what their future is.

  10. Scotty on Denman

    April 7th, 2019

    “Cacophonous?” “Talking over each other?” Really?

    Coming from BC where leaders’ debates usually consist of each “debater” grinding their mouths into gear and flooring it for the entire torture session, I found this Alberta exercise as orderly as a debaters’ club of the high school variety—that is, respectful, bloodless, toothless and fairly dull. You can’t do that in BC else you blow a 20-point lead and default to a lousier, if louder, contestant.

    Political audiences usually want interruptions to their mostly non political lives to be rewarded with some blood and teeth on the floor—it hardly matters whose. Incoherence hardly matters when utterances made while strapped to a stretcher are drowned out by the din of applause. Politicians on campaign must parry or lose.

    One had to look and listen pretty closely to discover anything approaching a knock-out punch during the debate—although Ms Notley almost tangled KeKKenney up in a tried and true combo: she took exception to KeKKenney’s gross exaggeration of her taxation plank—but he didn’t take the bait and might have tricked her into a “math is hard” rejoinder; but she was too smart for that. Neither was there a “Deplorables” moment. No points scored, either way.

    Of course Mr Fildebrandt should have been there: he could have been the ‘F’ to KeKKenney’s ‘U.’


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