Alberta party leaders offered their best sales pitches last night to lure voters, but it’s clear no one came out on top as the true winner.
The leaders debate largely saw NDP Leader Rachel Notley and UCP Leader Jason Kenney attack one another’s platforms, though they occasionally explained their visions for the province.
The leaders sparred over the economy, balancing the books, the environment, health care and education, but the most contentious exchanges came when the issue of integrity was brought up.
Kenney faced accusations that have dogged him throughout the campaign, including the leadership race scandal and hateful remarks made by some of his candidates, but he accused Notley of making a “drive-by smear.”
In return, Notley said, “I’m really sorry to hear that you think people talking about your record is negative campaigning.”
Speaking of his platform, Kenney reinforced he would sue Ottawa if the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion isn’t built, touting his plan would create jobs even with spending freezes on public services.
“The only way to avoid digging into a $100-billion debt hole that risks our future and our public services, without reducing spending on key public services, is to grow the economy,” Kenney said, suggesting Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are in an alliance.
“You sold Alberta down the river.”
Notley said Alberta has the best balance sheet in the country, adding that her plan would create jobs through the energy diversification strategy, which aims to bolster bitumen upgrading.
She said she believes the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will get built.
“Nothing you just said there is going to get a pipeline built. It’s just going to get you media,” Notley said of Kenney, who later countered that Notley is “an expert in killing jobs in downtown Calgary.”
Notley also maintained she wouldn’t freeze spending on health care or education, noting Alberta is expected to see more kids enter the school system.
“Here is how you cut class sizes, you hire teachers,” she said.
On the environment, Kenney said the NDP is using the carbon tax as a cash grab, but Notley stood by the levy.
She said it’s helped reduce emissions by seven megatons and has spurred investment in renewable energy, charging the UCP’s plan would accelerate emissions because Kenney wants to lift the cap on emitters.
Agriculture only came up once during the debate, with Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel saying canola could be converted to support petroleum products.
Mandel and Liberal Leader David Khan both took aim at Notley and Kenney.
Mandel charged the NDP and UCP campaigns have been negative and their plans won’t solve economic woes, while Khan felt Kenney has been “preying on people’s economic anxiety.”
Political commentators said no leader managed to have a knock-out punch in the debate, suggesting Notley and Kenney played to their bases but didn’t lure undecided voters.
The Alberta Party and Alberta Liberals managed to make a good showing despite being minor parties and largely unknown.
During the debate, Khan outlined his vision to implement a sales tax, while also reducing income taxes, to help Alberta stop relying on unstable revenue from the energy sector.
Mandel said the province should be united, not divided, highlighting some aspects of his party’s platform, which include securing a railway between Alaska and Alberta, bolstering the forestry industry and investing in CanaPux, a company that creates solid pellets of bitumen to safely move the product.
Khan had a memorable one-liner, saying, “I’m the only leader up here who’s actually laid pipe in the Brooks area one summer in my undergrad, so I’ve actually built a pipeline.”
He duelled with Mandel frequently, charging that Mandel failed to address the opioid crisis during his short time as the former health minister under Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservative government.
Khan also alleged the Alberta Party has advocated for private health care, which Mandel vehemently denied.
In response to Khan’s accusations, Mandel notably said, “Maybe you were smoking things that you shouldn’t have been smoking.”
Albertans head to the polls April 16.