Live coverage recap: Alberta election leaders’ debate

WATCH ABOVE: The full leaders debate. 

EDMONTON and CALGARY — The leaders debate on Global News kicked off with opening remarks from Alberta’s four main political party leaders, but quickly turned into a two-way battle between the PC and NDP.

“There are four leaders in this debate, but the real tension is between NDP leader Rachel Notley and PC leader Jim Prentice,” said Dave Cournoyer, political analyst and blogger, “Almost immediately Prentice began attacking the NDP leader, revealing who he believes his real threat in this election is.”

READ MORE: Notley emerges as winner of Alberta election leaders’ debate

WATCH: Highlights from the leaders debate.

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Notley also focused her energy on battling Prentice.

“People across Alberta are taking a hard look at Jim Prentice and his government at a time when families are worried about jobs and family budget,” said NDP leader Rachel Notley in her opening remarks. “He’s asking them to pay more for his government’s bad choices.”

FULL COVERAGE: Alberta election 2015

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean opened with some background on his childhood as the youngest of 11 children and said he wants to restore government accountability.

“I’m the only leader here tonight that will not raise your taxes,” said Jean.

PC Leader Jim Prentice called himself an optimist and asked for Albertans’ support.

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“Tonight is about who can provide the stability and the leadership that will be needed over the next two years,” he said. “It is about who has a plan that is realistic…to break the boom and bust cycle and grow our economy, save for the future, to protect our front line services.”

READ MORE: Decision Alberta 2015 – Voting 101

Liberal Leader David Swann said the PCs have “blown through resource wealth in one generation.”

“They refuse to ask their big donor buddies to pay their fair share even as they tell you to look in the mirror and tighten your belts,” said Swann.

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Read our live blog recap below to see highlights of comments and guest contributor analysis from:

  • Dave Cournoyer, political analyst and blogger,
  • Dana DiTomaso, marketing expert, Kick Point
  • Dr. Tami Bereska, sociology professor at MacEwan University, body language expert

Your live blog host was Global Edmonton’s Weekend Morning News anchor Kent Morrison and featured Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice, Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, Alberta Liberal Party leader David Swann and Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley. As with previous debates, only the leaders of the parties with elected members in the Legislature at dissolution participated.

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Education funding

In answer to a question on the budget’s lack of education funding for 12,000 new students, Prentice said he’d protected teachers’ positions and salaries and asked schoolboards to help by using their reserves.

Notley criticized the plan, saying sending 12,000 new kids into a school “without a single solitary teacher being hired” is “just wrong.” She emphasized the need to reduce class sizes and said some school boards don’t have the ability to use their reserves.

“The fact is you’re prepared to send 12,000 kids into classrooms without a teacher because …it’s more important to you to protect your corporate tax giveaways,” she said.

Swann said the Liberals would invest $100 million to replace retiring teachers and hire new ones to reduce class sizes. He stumbled in his answer, but added his party would build new schools, and reduce school fees.

During the free debate, Prentice and Notley argued over whether the education budget had been cut or not. Jean suggested the PCs had promised more than 100 schools over the last four years, and only built one.

“Empty fields means empty classrooms which means our children will not receive the education they need,” said Jean, who added his budget would eliminate all mandatory school fees.

Prentice accused Jean of making promises he didn’t have the funding to provide, and told him: “Now’s your chance to come clean and tell people what you are proposing to cut.”

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Jean referred Prentice to his budget, saying he had a copy and would be “more than happy to share” it with the leaders in the commercial break.

READ MORE: Decision Alberta 2015 – Get to know the party leaders

Health care

Notley accused the PC government of “neglect” when it came to the province’s health care system.

“Mr. Prentice’s plan to take $1 billion out of health will make things much worse,” she said. “The Alberta NDP would reverse those cuts.”

Swann said the Liberals would ensure health care experts manage Alberta Health Services and “empower the auditor to monitor health spending.” He was cut short before he could explain details on rebuilding Edmonton’s Misercordia Hospital.

Watch Above: Prentice and Notley appear to have come out ahead after the debate. Shallima Maharaj reports

An exchange between Notley and Jean erupted when she accused the Wildrose leader of proposing “two-tiered health system where the wealthy get access and the rest of us don’t.”

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Jean denied his party aims to privatize the province’s health care, but Notley repeated “you’ve said everything about privatizing which is exactly the outcome of your strategy, and Albertans should be very worried about that.”

Moving away from oil

When asked how changes to revenue streams would be made so that services don’t rely on the price of oil, Swann said he would eliminate the small business tax and cancel the health levy proposed by the PC government. Prentice said he would “diversify,” but was soon interrupted by Jean.

“I can’t handle the diversification he talks about,” Jean said. “Why can he not come up with a plan?”

Instead of responding, Prentice turned to Notley, and mistakenly said the NDP was proposing a 20-per-cent corporate tax.

“Our proposed corporate tax rate is 12 per cent,” Notley said with a smile. “I don’t know who’s briefing you, but it’s 12 per cent. We are not proposing a 20-per-cent corporate tax. That would be ridiculous.”

“Albertans told you they want corporations to pay their fair share and you ignored them.”

Vulnerable Albertans

One rare moment when Notley complimented Prentice was during a discussion of the new tax credit introduced in the PC budget. The Alberta Working Family Supplement (AWFS) applies to families earning between $2,760 and $41,220. Those with one child are eligible for up to $1,100 each year, plus as much as $550 more for any additional children up to a maximum of $2,750.

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“You deserve a bit of credit for bringing in that plan,” said Notley. “It was a small portion of what advocates in the area have been asking for, so good for you. But that doesn’t kick in until 15 months from now.”

Above: What did body language of the leaders say about them during the debate. Gary Bobrovitz reports.

Notley said the former PC government promised to eliminate child poverty then “sat by not doing anything.”

“It’s a good start but not what we actually need.”

When Prentice began to speak about what the “great lengths” the province has gone to for its most vulnerable people, Notley interrupted to say it has the highest gap in the country between the rich and the poor.

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The debate comes in the third week of a campaign that will end May 5, when Albertans head to the polls. The PCs are running for their 13th consecutive majority government, dating back to 1971.

With files from Kerry Powell

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