If last night's Alberta Progressive Conservative Leadership debate in a North Edmonton Ukrainian community hall shows anything, it's that candidates Ric McIver and Thomas Lukaszuk were slightly better brawlers than leadership frontrunner Jim Prentice.
But you'd expect the two challengers to pile onto the favoured candidate at an event like this -- the only forum in the entire leadership campaign not carefully scripted by the PC Party brass and caucus members, who overwhelmingly favour Prentice's candidacy.
It was also the only forum to permit a few moments of actual three-way debate among the candidates for Alison Redford's tarnished crown, an aspect helped by the able moderation of CBC announcer Kim Trynacity.
Anyway, you'd expect Prentice to tread carefully, especially around the two issues that provided some difficulty for him yesterday -- his recent announcement his campaign would be giving away party memberships, instead of selling them as is the party tradition, and his ideas about how Alberta Health Services should be run.
So I'm not sure how much can be deduced about how each of the Tory trio are doing from the few moments of fun the forum provided to the crowd of about 100 people, about half apparently members of the Edmonton Ukrainian community. (A small slight of hand was managed by the event's organizers, who moved the debate from a huge room, where the crowd would have looked pathetic, into quite a small one, which seemed impressively packed.)
To turn to the inevitable boxing metaphor, local homeboy Lukaszuk landed a couple of punches, McIver landed one, but the frontrunner escaped with no obvious bruising. There were no knockouts.
I'd have to respectfully disagree with one professional journalist who said the debate featured "a rowdy shouting match." Voices were raised, but not for long. Decorum was maintained. As for the heckling heard by another reporter, it was mostly one guy, and he divided his attention between Prentice and McIver. I know this because he was sitting right behind me.
On the whole, I'd say all three candidates did OK, although I'd give the contest to Lukaszuk on points, if only for the best line of the evening, in which he mockingly encouraged "all Albertans to pick up a free membership from Jim and vote for me."
He followed that up with a clever but harmless tap at McIver: "This province doesn’t need a Mr. Vague or a Dr. No” -- the latter being a reference to McIver's nickname as an austerity advocate on Calgary city council and the former a pretty fair description of Prentice's approach to most issues.
Cut through the verbiage, though, and there was very little to separate any of the candidates on genuinely important issues other than how to run AHS.
None of them favour changing the oil and gas royalty structure (although Lukaszuk advocates more value added processing in Alberta), all of them say they want to make peace with Alberta teachers, and all of them advocate some degree of fiscal conservatism.
Not surprisingly, given the venue, all of them think warm thoughts about Ukraine, which McIver, with an unintended geographical tribute to former U.S. vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, described as our "good neighbour."
On his call to restore board governance to the AHS and his justifications for giving away memberships when, after all, the party's rules allow it, Prentice reminded me for all the world of a earnest Joe Clark trying to explain a complicated point to an inattentive listener.
Interestingly, the loudest cheer of the evening went to Lukaszuk's argument the federal Temporary Foreign Workers Program needs to be replaced by real immigrants who get to stay in Canada -- but this too was a point of which all three candidates are really in agreement.
The reality is that while a fine time was had by most of the people who bothered to turn out, this contest is going to be decided by membership sales and committed voters -- which likely means it's a fight between Prentice, with the support of the party establishment, and McIver, who is emphasizing political niche marketing to committed groups.
This leaves Lukaszuk without much to show but two thumbs up from Alberta Diary for his modest debating victory last night.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
Thank you for reading this story…
More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.
rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.
So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.
And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.