Editorial—Debating the Debate

Last night the one and only leader’s debate was held for the main contenders for the Alberta election, and the winner was the media.  I don’t think there’s anybody else who could be said to have gained significantly from the entire affair, not the parties, not the leaders, and certainly not the viewers watching.

Normally I might suggest that Danielle Smith won simply because she beat the expectations of her providing a performance similar to a dumpster fire, but she had to do it by essentially ignoring the whole, well, debate aspect of the debate.  You could almost read the cue-cards she had memorized for her talking points, which was especially obvious when there were any questions posed on subjects she did not want to address, as she’d pivot immediately away from the subject and back into the stock lines of how Ms. Notley was refusing to run on her record.

And Ms. Notley did no better, in my eyes, specifically because she took the safer route and didn’t attempt to explain her record in the context of the time that she was governing.   Alberta was entering into tough times, so much so that even the PC’s were talking about having to raise taxes and fees shortly before the election, and while she didn’t get us out of those times, she managed to hold things steady without compromising the services, like post-secondary education, that are the ones that enable future growth.

Not represented were leaders from lesser parties such as the Alberta Party, the Green Party or the Liberals.  And while none of those are even running enough candidates to be able to form a government, it might have been interesting to see what issues they would bring forward and how the two contenders addressed them.  If they addressed them at all.

However, the debates really aren’t held for those who are already decided, but for the group who remain undecided but are likely to vote.  In Alberta, that’s about 18% of the population, and in an election this close, that could swing things.  I tend to think that, in Alberta, undecided means, “I don’t want to support Danielle Smith but I don’t want to vote for the NDP/I want to vote Conservative.”  Perhaps for them, Smith being able to get through a public speaking engagement without visibly putting her foot in her mouth would be enough to assuage their fears.

Unfortunately, the results of the debate on the polling will be confounded by her own ethics minister pointing out her interference in the justice system being “a threat to democracy”.  Currently, the aggregate polling looks like we’re in store for a UCP majority.

I’m not happy about this, but, being totally honest, will it have a significant effect on the day to day of anybody who isn’t already disadvantaged?  Probably not.  But I fear for those who are disadvantaged and rely on public supports.  Will it have a significant effect on AU?  That ship has already sailed, as the UCP has already removed any ability for the academics or the students to have meaningful say in how the university has run and the metrics it will be judged by.  My main concern is that, given Ms. Smith’s earlier actions as leader, I fear she’ll continue to try to consolidate power and control within her cabinet, and look to eliminate as many checks and balances as possible while doing so.

So is Smith getting elected the end of good governance and democratic ideals in Alberta?  Again, probably not.  But I worry that she’s setting the stage.

In any event, enjoy the read!