Jason Kenney, Rachel Notley face balancing act as they get set to spar in legislative session

Click to play video: 'Alberta legislature session to resume Thursday with throne speech'
Alberta legislature session to resume Thursday with throne speech
WATCH ABOVE: Alberta's MLAs will return to the legislature Thursday, where UCP leader Jason Kenney will join his party members for the first time since being elected. Kent Morrison has more on what to expect from the session – Mar 8, 2018

For months, Jason Kenney and Rachel Notley have been going toe to toe, duelling with differing visions for the future of Alberta. So far, all the sparring has been done in public and through the media. But that will soon change.

READ MORE: Cannabis, TransMountain, expected to dominate Alberta’s spring legislative session

Thursday’s speech from the throne, to be delivered by Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell, kicks off the spring sitting of the Alberta legislature. Come Monday, the leaders of the province’s two biggest parties have their first real opportunity to debate under the dome of the chamber.

“I think it’s going to be a real challenge for both sides,” said Lori Williams, associate professor of policy studies at Mount Royal University.

WATCH: Jennifer Crosby was joined by political commentator Dave Cournoyer, Berlin Communications political strategist Justin Archer and Global News Alberta provincial affairs reporter Tom Vernon to discuss the upcoming spring session.

Click to play video: 'Global News political panel tees up ‘Notley vs. Kenney’ spring session'
Global News political panel tees up ‘Notley vs. Kenney’ spring session

Williams said Kenney and Notley both have unique strengths, but suggested each needs to be conscious of potential pitfalls in how they deal with the other, and in turn, how they present to the public.

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“We know from his performance in the House of Commons, he’s quite tenacious,” Williams said of Kenney. “He’s very focused, very organized and pretty relentless. He can be pretty tough on a government or even members of the Opposition.”

Williams feels that if Kenney appears too tough, it could be problematic for two reasons.

“The first reason … is that it’s a man who’s going up against a woman,” she said. “And particularly in male-female dynamics if men go a little too far, if they’re a little too tough, they can come off looking like a bit of a bully, and particularly in the current climate, that might be a problem for him.”

Williams said Kenney’s second issue could come in from how likeable the public perceives him to be.

“The qualities that are associated with Jason Kenney don’t put likability near the top,” she said. “He’s got lots of strengths, but likability isn’t in the top few.”

WATCH BELOW: UCP Leader Jason Kenney will take his seat in the legislature for the first time this week. As Tom Vernon explains, it will be the start of what many expect will be a heated debate all the way into the next provincial election campaign.
Click to play video: 'Jason Kenney prepares to take his seat in the Alberta legislature'
Jason Kenney prepares to take his seat in the Alberta legislature

Steering clear of negativity and aggressiveness is something Williams feels would be wise for both party leaders, adding it’s a turn-off to voters.

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“This is something that debaters are quite comfortable with, that politicians are quite comfortable with, often lawyers who are used to litigation are quite comfortable with–but regular people are not comfortable with it.”

For Premier Notley, Williams believes the challenge also lies in a measured approach to being tough, but not too tough.

“People’s expectations along gender lines mean they don’t like female leaders to be too tough,” Williams said. “Rachel Notley has been … looking tough, but also looking collaborative, encouraging, willing to work with people to find solutions.

“Up against a very tough leader of the Opposition, the pressure to be a little tougher is going to increase and she is going to have to be careful about striking that balance.”

READ MORE: Alberta politicians to debate motion on pipelines as legislature set to resume

Both Notley and Kenney will be selling their leadership to voters as the spring session rolls on. Williams believes with the clock running out in the run-up to the next provincial election, the focus for both will be highlighting their strengths, while exposing the other’s weaknesses.

“We already know Rachel Notley is going to focus on some of the extreme policy tendencies that are likely to come from the Opposition if they were to become government,” Williams said. “If she can expose evidence of that–either in what’s said by those shadow cabinet members or even by the leader–that will call into question whether this is the kind of government people want.

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“Similarly, if Jason Kenney can expose flaws or holes either in those members of cabinet or more important their policies – what he’ll call their failed policies – then I think people will say, ‘Well, do we want to give a try to another kind of government?'”

But Williams cautions Kenney on overstating, exaggerating or being misleading when highlighting the actions and policies of the NDP that he takes issue with in an effort to woo voters.

“To make those kinds of claims when they are questionable, when they are not factually accurate, when they cannot be substantiated–that threatens to undermine his credibility.”

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