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UPDATED: Alberta Leaders’ Debate analysis

Alberta’s four main party leaders made an impression in Thursday’s debate, with the Wildrose leader performing particularly well, political analysts say

Progressive Conservative Leader Alison Redford, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, NDP Leader Brian Mason and Liberal Leader Raj Sherman faced questions and challenged each other on a variety of issues, including the no-meet committee, the Wildrose promise of an energy dividend, health care, education and much more in a debate held at Global Edmonton.

Partway through the debate, political analyst Duane Bratt felt Smith was doing best.

“I think Danielle is winning this debate,” he said. “Redford looks rattled, more rattled than I thought she’d be.”

Smith’s counterpoint to the accusation that she lacked experience was a palpable hit, Bratt said.

“She said, ‘I’m not experienced at running deficits. I’m not experienced at bullying doctors,’” he said, noting that she was clearly well-prepared.

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Edmonton-based political blogger Dave Cournoyer found it hard to declare a winner, although he agreed that first-timer Smith did well.

“I didn’t see any knockout punch or any other cliche that’s been bandied about the past few days,” he said.

Joey Oberhoffner, who blogs about politics from Calgary, said Smith came across well.

“The comment was, ‘She sounded like a premier,’” Oberhoffner said of the multi-partisan group of people who gathered at his house to watch the debate. He noted, however, that Smith seemed short on details.

“When she was being pressed for specifics, she didn’t have them to offer,” Oberhoffner said.

Redford was much more specific, he said, and she started and finished strongly. In the middle, however, she struggled, he said.

“When she was attacked, she had a tendency to flinch physically,” he said.

The most heated exchanged between Smith and Redford was over the so-called no-meet committee, where MLAs were paid $1,000 a month to sit on a committee that hadn’t met in years.

“It’s essentially the thing that kicked off their downfall in the polls,” Cournoyer said. “It reaffirmed everything that people hate about politicians.”

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Smith’s Achilles heel was on conscience rights and citizen’s initiatives, he said.

Sherman was the wild card in the debate, Bratt said. “Every time he pauses, you know he’s got a zinger coming,” he said.

Cournoyer felt Sherman did not do what he had to do to make the Liberal party assert its relevance.

“I think he did OK,” Cournoyer said. “Watching the debate, he was a little cardboard… You could tell he’d rehearsed a lot of his lines.”

Oberhoffner agreed. “He needed to do a lot better than cute one-liners,” he said.

Mason articulated his position well to his base, particularly on electricity, Oberhoffner said, but he doesn’t think this performance will lead to an Alberta version of the “orange crush” that elevated the federal NDP to official opposition status.

“He doesn’t have the charisma or at least didn’t show it tonight to turn his performance into a 10- to 15-seat caucus,” Oberhoffner said.

Mason, the only leader to have been in a leaders’ debate before, performed as expected, Bratt said. “He’s pleading with people to take the high road when it’s been a fairly high-road debate,” he said.

Mason clearly differentiated himself on ideology, Cournoyer said, but he could have done better.

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“My expectations for him were a little bit higher than he actually performed,” he said.

Cournoyer was hoping for more substance on the issue that the majority of Albertans list as their top priority: health care.

“There was no real big debate about policy,” he said. “There were a lot of platitudes among the candidates.”

Oberhoffner said the people watching the debate with him shared his disappointment that cities were not on the agenda.

“The overall comment was there seemed to be a lot of disappointment in the fact that municipal issues were not discussed,” he said. “I know that’s going to be a big disappointment for the mayor of Calgary.”

Lethbridge blogger Jeff Henry agreed. He also noted that in the live blog in which he, Oberhoffner and Cournoyer participated, there was a lot of talk about land use, which never made it to the debate floor. Nonetheless, the debate will be useful for undecided voters, he said.

“I don’t think that people have had a chance to interact with these leaders before,” he said. “I think that’s very important for people who are going to mark that ballot.”

Henry said he expected the debate to rekindle some excitement, which had started to fizzle somewhat given that the parties had all started campaigning long before the writ dropped.

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“What this debate does is it puts a lot of energy back into the election,” he said.

Watch the web for the results of a Global News/CORUS poll by Ipsos surveying Albertans on who won, who lost and how respondents are likely to vote.

 

For a recap of Global’s live blog, click here.

 

You can also view a couple of the debate highlights below.

 

In this clip, the leaders free debate on health care and their budgets:

 

 

 

And here, the leaders engage in a free debate on their party’s moral stance. After Danielle Smith spoke about her support for voter-initiated referenda on contentious social issues (such as abortion funding), Sherman told her: “This is Alberta not Alabama. We don’t need to go back 20, 40 years. We need to go forward.”

 

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