Leadership debates are usually a time when candidates have an opportunity to sway the minds of undecided or uncommitted voters, unfortunately no one seemed to tell the leaders that last week.
If viewers were hoping to hear something new or gain clarity on party platforms they were sorely disappointed. However, if they were instead looking to see an example of recess at a grade school, they got everything they hoped for.
Class rivals and popular kids Premier Rachel Notley and UCP leader Jason Kenney squared off in a nose-scrunching duel shaking their heads while effectively screaming "I know you are but what am I," at each other as they tried to convince voters why the other is a rudey face.
Kenney, who has set himself up as the playground tough guy, stuck to his populist speaking points regarding fighting the feds on the Carbon Tax and equalization, punishing B.C. on pipeline obstruction and linking to Notley as much as possible the school's beleaguered and unloved drama teacher (that's Justin Trudeau if anyone missed the reference).
Meanwhile, Notley spent half her time trying to cast Kenney as more of a bully than a champion and pointed out the out-of-step comments Kenney and members of his party have made regarding the LGBTQ community, women and immigrants – some recent, some dating back decades.
Neither expanded on their messaging and choosing to focus on shouting over each other and calling each other liars just made them both look unprepared as they focused on discrediting the other instead of building their own credibility. Of course identity politics will lead many to argue about who threw the first punch and further distract from the actual issues.
It's unfortunate, there are a lot of ideas being tossed up by both parties that people want explained more clearly. Most importantly, how they will get Alberta back to a balanced or surplus budget – something that has happened only once in the past decade. The NDP have billions in new spending planned, while the UCP have billions in tax cuts. In both cases, the question that was never clearly answered is where does the money come from to reach balance.
Of course there were two other players in the yard, unfortunately by now few will remember they were there. Both sat on the sidelines politely waiting their turns – to their credits – and using their moments in the spotlight to point out flaws in Notley and Kenney's plans while discussing why their plans are better.
Between Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandell and Liberal leader David Khan, Khan was the clear winner between the pair, though he could have provided more details on the Liberal plan. However, he was far more informative than Mandell who seemed to flounder at times. Khan also used his jabs effectively, citing his experience as a constitutional lawyer to poke holes in Kenney's referendum and constitutional challenge plan, while also taking shots at the NDP for taxation policies he says have been ineffective and too costly to Albertans,
As far as who won the debate, the answer is the City of Calgary. Frequent mentions of the beleaguered city demonstrated the UCP and the NDP recognize the battle ground it is shaping up to be and that could mean more promises that commit to aiding the city that is facing high unemployment and office tower vacancy rates.