2015-04-24 23:18:14 UTC
Braid: Notley shines in the best-ever Alberta leaders' debate
Now, that was a heck of a debate — tough, lively, blunt without being vicious,
often highly entertaining; a vivid reflection of divisions in the province and
the rise of three almost equal political forces.
And the winner is … Rachel Notley of the NDP, hands down.
That was the opinion pouring in after the debate, from the political world,
average voters and even business people. Notley was all over the others —
aggressive without being unpleasant, constantly interjecting without seeming
rude, throwing even Premier Jim Prentice off his game.
There was one deadly moment when Prentice looked at Notley, as they were
debating corporate tax rates, and he said: “I know that math is difficult …”
It sounded patronizing. Notley smiled faintly. She had him — and sure enough,
a few minutes later when talk turned to royalties, she said Albertans are
always told, “Don’t worry your pretty little heads …”
One woman tweeted: “Right there, That was the moment that I decided how to
vote.” A new Twitter hashtag — #mathishard — instantly went ballistic.
Prentice seemed jolted by Notley’s quickness and skill. She was a tough target
for the premier.
Notley played him like a fiddle, often interrupting adroitly, without seeming
angry, just pleasantly indignant. A few times he just gave up and let her go
on. Indeed, there was a moment near the end when the premier looked like he
wanted to pack up and leave. ヽ(^。^)ノ
Prentice himself was cool and able, as usual, except for a couple of shaken
moments. He has a coherent program that’s well understood. But he faced the
usual premier’s problem — he was constantly blasted from all over the stage.
Most of the criticisms reflected things Prentice has said himself about past PC
regimes. Even Prentice loyalists will have trouble seeing this debate as more
than a draw for the PCs.
The real puzzlement was why Prentice spent so much time directly confronting
and questioning Notley, even after it became clear she was very tough to handle.
Partly it was placement on the stage — they stood right next to each other —
but a move like that always has some strategy behind it. It may mean the PCs
are worried about an NDP breakthrough beyond Edmonton, perhaps into Calgary
ridings. After last night, they may have good reason.
Then there was new Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, the sharpest contrast to Notley
imaginable. He was blunt and highly scripted, repeating the same point again
and again — “Wildrose will not raise your taxes.” He called all the other
parties “a coalition of tax-raisers.”
It’s unlikely that Jean made a big breakthrough with a wider public beyond
Wildrose supporters, but he did a solid job of defending the party’s core
position as the party of cuts to government, rather than tax hikes for
individuals. There’s a big Alberta market for that view and Jean was not about
to give it away.
Once, when Prentice attacked Wildrose budget numbers, Jean said: “I always
appreciate a good fearmongerer.” He was also careful to cover off a few
Wildrose danger points, including Danielle Smith’s 2012 statement that climate
change science is not settled.
“Man-made climate change is real and we need to tackle it head on,” Jean said.
It was a curious thing for a modern party leader to have to say, but
essential to elude a scare campaign on that issue.
Overall, Jean seemed quite wooden and humourless. Even Prentice managed the
odd genuine smile under fire. It wasn’t easy to see Jean as a premier,
although he certainly looked like one hard-nosed opposition leader.
While Jean tried to paint himself as the polar opposite to Prentice, Notley
stuck in a needle that pinned them back together.
“That’s no way to talk to a donor,” she said to Prentice when he criticized
Jean. It was a reminder that only last fall, Jean donated $10,000 to the PC
leadership campaign of his former federal caucus mate.
Liberal Leader David Swann seemed almost secondary to the great three-party war
being fought around him, but he was no pushover at all, attacking both Wildrose
and the NDP as too extreme, and accusing the PCs of “corruption.”
The obvious goal for Prentice was to discredit the opposition parties and paint
the PCs as the only possible government.
It’s not at all clear that he achieved his aim. The last 10 days of this
campaign are still crucially important.