United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney and NDP Leader Rachel Notley came in elbows high in Alberta’s election leadership debate, each castigating the other of failing fundamental tests of public trust.
Kenney accused Notley of bungling the economy and kowtowing to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, while Notley labelled Kenney a snake oil salesman on social issues and a cheat.
Notley zeroed in on the ongoing investigation by elections officials and the RCMP into aspects of the UCP leadership race that delivered Kenney to victory in 2017.
“It is becoming clearer and clearer that people on Mr. Kenney’s leadership team at the very least cheated for him to win the leadership,” Notley said Thursday night.
“So the real question is this: If Mr. Kenney would cheat his own party members to have a chance at running to be premier, what will he do to the people of this province to keep the job?”
Watch below: Tom Vernon wraps up the Alberta leaders debate in less than three minutes
Kenney said Notley has failed by taking the wheel of Alberta’s sluggish economy in 2015 and, through higher taxes and regulations, ramming it deeper into the ditch.
He said Notley has brought in massive deficits, growing debt and teamed up with a federal government that has not delivered a pipeline while putting forth legislation that could tie up future energy projects and ban northern B.C. tanker traffic.
“The NDP is digging us into a debt hole of well over $100 billion that risks our future and our public services,” said Kenney.
“Premier Notley has made a disastrous deal, an alliance with Justin Trudeau and all we have to show for it is a jobs crisis, no pipelines and a carbon tax.”
Turning to Notley, he said: “You sold Alberta down the river.”
Watch below: During an Alberta election leaders debate, party leaders were challenged on their relationship with Ottawa, as well as pipelines.
Notley charged Kenney with failing to keep people with intolerant views out of the party. This week, Kenney refused to take action on candidate Mark Smith for 2013 homophobic remarks and comments equating abortion to murder.
Kenney has condemned the remarks but is letting Smith, his education critic in caucus, remain a candidate.
Smith is one of a number of UCP candidates or party members who have faced controversy over remarks about LGBTQ, Muslims or other minority groups.
Notley said the reason is clear: “Mr. Kenney is not being forthright with Albertans when he talks about the idea that his party accepts and supports people in the LGBTQ community. They do not.”
Watch below: Alberta political party leaders debate social issues and, more specifically, gay-straight alliances in Alberta schools.
Kenney has faced controversy over how he won the leadership of the UCP.
Alberta’s elections commissioner and the RCMP have been investigating Jeff Callaway’s leadership campaign, and how it was financed amid reports that Callaway was not a real candidate, but was planted there to attack Kenney’s main rival on Kenney’s behalf.
Kenney has denied any agreement with Callaway, but recently disclosed documents showed the two campaigns shared talking points, attack ads and even collaborated on the date Callaway would quit the race in order to back Kenney.
Responding to Notley in the debate, Kenney called her attacks calculated misdirection.
“Whenever she does this it’s because she’s incapable of defending her failed economic record,” he said.
“Whenever you hear that fear and smear, that’s what’s really going on.”
Watch below: Alberta leaders debate the meaning of leadership and how they will lead the province if they were to become premier
Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel said both Notley and Kenney are failing Albertans. He said his centrist party focuses on the economy and on social issues.
“We don’t think you should have to choose between a good economy and a kind society. You should be able to have both,” said Mandel.
Alberta Liberal party Leader David Khan pushed his economic plan, specifically effectively eliminating provincial income tax for almost all Albertans while bringing in a sales tax to stabilize revenues.
“We have the boldest pro-growth strategy of any political party in decades,” said Khan.
Political analyst Justin Archer with Berlin Communications said he’s been watching the campaign closely and there was no clear front-runner in Thursday’s debate.
“I don’t think anybody won the debate but I also don’t really think anybody lost the debate,” he said.
“I know that’s maybe a bit of a boring answer but I was really looking for that knock-out punch.”
Archer said Kenney likely had the most to lose going into the debate, but he didn’t see the UCP leader stumble.
“He’s the one that’s ahead in the polls right now. So any time you’re the front runner, getting in an environment like that debate where anything could happen, there’s a little bit of risk associated with that,” Archer said.
“I didn’t really see him stumble or get pounded on maybe as much as I was expecting to. So if I was all of them, I don’t think anybody’s going to be really disappointed tonight but he (Kenney) might be maybe the most pleased, would be my guess.”
Archer said Notley and Kenney seemed to dominate the debate while Mandel and Khan were “trying to elbow in a little bit of room wherever they could.”
Watch below: Each of the leaders make their closing arguments at the end of the debate
Derek Fildebrandt, leader of the Freedom Conservative party, was not invited to the debate, even though he had a seat in the legislature at dissolution. His party focuses on individual freedoms, particularly in areas like property, firearms and self-defence.
Albertans go to the polls on April 16.
The 90-minute debate ran from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. MT Thursday. Global News live streamed the event online. It was also broadcast on the radio on Global News Radio 880 in Edmonton.
Twitter Canada was keeping a close eye on how users on the social media site were reacting to Thursday night’s leaders’ debate.
According to spokesperson Cam Gordon, the top three election issues discussed on Twitter during the debate were:
During the debate, Kenney had the most Twitter mentions of the four candidates involved.
Watch below: From pipelines to the economy, those vying to lead Alberta spoke to voters on why their party deserves your vote in the upcoming provincial election. Jennifer Crosby sat down with a political analyst to delve deeper into the leaders debate.
With files from Caley Ramsay, Global News.
© 2019 The Canadian Press