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Notley and Kenney escape relatively unscathed in Alberta election leaders' debate

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The debaters: From left to right, Jason Kenney, David Khan, Rachel Notley and Stephen Mandel (Photo: Screenshot).

Last night's Alberta election leaders' debate was an unedifying experience, as these things often are.

If anyone except hard-core political junkies kept their hands off the remote, I'd be surprised.

Debate stuck to talking points we've heard before, the broadcast aired at a weird hour when many viewers were still coming home from work, the format made the discussion difficult to follow, moderator Tara Nelson often shouted over participants as she struggled to maintain order, and the panel of four journos asked pedestrian questions. It was cacophonous and irritating.

Worse, there were no epic body slams in which one debater got smashed to the mat by another one, no "math is hard" moment as in 2015. And, let's admit it, that's what we're all hoping for when we sit down to watch one of these things.

The lack of a decisive moment in this debate may be a good thing for the leaders of the two major parties, Premier Rachel Notley, a New Democrat, and Opposition Leader Jason Kenney of the United Conservative Party. No one enjoyed a knockout, but no one got knocked out either. Supporters of both parties can call their leader the winner, and will.

Notley and Kenney used strong language to emphasize key points of their campaigns.

Notley called Kenney an electoral cheat surrounded by extremist candidates, weak on the environment and health care, and a flop on the pipeline file the whole time he was in Ottawa.

Kenney called Notley a tax-and-spend politician, too close to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, ineffective on job creation, and a flop on the pipeline file the whole time she's been premier.

Notley sounded as if she was battling a cold. Kenney sounded as if he were aiming for glib piety and falling short, like a driver with a guilty secret in the trunk trying to talk his way out of a late-night traffic stop.

Whenever either one of them tried to respond to a jab, it seemed as if Nelson interrupted and asked someone else to speak.

The closest thing to a memorable moment came in the low-stakes side battle between Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel and Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan as they fought it out for a distant third place.

Khan, a lawyer, accused the Alberta Party of being in favour of privatized medicine. He said he heard it on the radio. Mandel denied it and said Khan must have been "smoking things that you shouldn't have been smoking."

This was mildly entertaining, but not exactly the stuff of high political drama.

Despite having to deflect a few shots for his past record as a Progressive Conservative cabinet minister, Mandel, a former mayor of Edmonton, was relaxed and in control as only someone can be who knows the stakes are just incredibly low. Everyone else has more to lose, arguably, in the April 16 election, which is presumably why they seemed more edgy.

Maybe what this debate needed was a shot of Derek Fildebrandt, who never should have been shut out on the spurious grounds used to eliminate him -- that his Freedom Conservative Party didn't run any candidates in 2015. (Note to the "media consortium" that cooked up this single 2019 TV debate: neither did the United Conservative Party.)

Impact? I'd say relatively little.

Pity. There really should be a second debate before we all troop to the polls.

It isn't going to happen.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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