Well, that was… a thing. Even for a political junkie like me, that debate was pretty stale. Maybe it was the format that didn’t allow for a lot of actual debate. Or maybe it was that even when there was opportunity for it, the leaders just talked over each other until time was up. Or maybe it was that everyone pretty well kept to their scripts instead of really engaging each other. Truthfully, it was probably all of the above. I don’t think anyone who went in leaning a certain way had their mind changed last night. More likely is that everyone who supports a certain party thought their leader did the best. That’s true to a certain degree with every debate, but seems truer this time.
Post debate analysis is a lot like judging movies in their opening weekend. It’s all about exceeding expectations. Someone with a reputation as a good debater who only does reasonably well has failed. Someone who can’t tie their shoes who gets in one good line is victorious. Mostly everyone did about as well as people expected. But saying the debate ended up being inconsequential is no fun. We need to pick some winners and losers. So here is the TTC take on the debate.
How everyone did:
Rachel Notley: 5/10
Mrs. Notley gets an “as expected” from me. She was articulate and clear, but spent most of the night attacking Jason Kenney instead of laying out a vision or trumpeting her accomplishments. That may have been the prudent thing to do, but it didn’t allow for her to exceed expectations. Where she did far better was in fending off attacks from Kenney and to a lesser extend, Mandel. She tried to get Kenney on the defensive about social issues several times, only to have him sidestep or punch back. Notley had the most to prove during the debate, and she failed to impress. At the same time, she probably didn’t hurt her chances. Sometimes when all you can achieve is a tie, you depart the field and call it a win. She alternated between reading from prepared answers and looking to genuinely speak from the heart.
Jason Kenney: 6/10
Mr. Kenney faired only slightly better than Mrs. Notley. He most almost the entire night on the defensive and did well. Notley led the charge, but both Mandel and Khan took turns attacking him – mostly about social issues. Kenney did a masterful job of pivoting the economy each time. Sure, sometimes he blatantly changed the subject without a good transition, but for the most part it worked. Kenney is strongest when talking money and tapping into the fear of debt, and he hammered that message home. Where he failed was in his attacks. He tried to put Notley on the defensive many times, and she rebuffed most of them. He came across and wooden and rehearsed throughout, but when you’re the front runner, it’s usually a good idea to stick to the script that got you there.
Stephen Mandel: 3/10
Mr. Mandel had the most on the line this go around. His party was participating in the debate for the first time and he the unenviable job of educating people about his party and trying to steal votes from the left and right. If he had only one of those jobs to do, he might have fared far better. He was by far the most genuine spoken of the four, but seemed to be trying to do too much. At alternate times he went on the offensive and attacked both Kenney and Notley on social and economic issues. Other times he seemed content to stay out of the fray and try to be above it. The result was half-hearted attacks and not enough education about his party. Both were missed opportunities. Mandel spoke in what seemed to be a genuine, caring tone about all issues, but often stumbled with his words which blunted his effectiveness. Sometimes less is more (which is a stupid saying, but works here).
David Khan: 7/10
Mr. Khan had a great night, perhaps because there were virtually no expectations of either him or his party. As we have covered, the Liberals barely register in Alberta politics. But Mr. Khan was by far the most articulate leader and stuck to a well-planned series of oft repeated lines (does anyone know what kind of lawyer he is?). He repeatedly claimed that the things the other leaders were trumpeting were Liberal ideas (and was mostly correct) placing him and his party in people’s minds as forward looking. He called out Kenney for his silly referendum promise, attacked Notley on the economy, and did both while clearly articulating what he would do differently. He would get an 8/10 if it weren’t for a key moment when he maliciously accused Stephen Mandel of mismanaging the opioid crisis despite no evidence. Khan did better than expected and successfully introduced himself to the electorate.
How it will affect the election:
It probably won’t. Nobody did enough in either direction to move the needle much. Mandel did poorly, but not terribly. Khan did well, but was starting too much of a disadvantage. Kenney and Notley did pretty much as expected. That is all good news for the front runner; Mr. Kenney. Notley needed to convince almost all undecided voters to vote for her to have any chance of winning. My guess is that we will see polls come out this week that confirm that people are sticking with the party they were already leaning toward.
Tara Nelson (the moderator): -1/10
For all intents and purposes she may as well have not been there. Things got away from her.
Emma Graney (panelist): 10/10
She was fun to watch for the 30 seconds we got of her. Funny too.