Alberta Votes Day 19: The Morning After
The hype machines were in overdrive for yesterday's Alberta Leaders Debate, but the outcome was similar to most debates: steady but unspectacular performances from all the candidates, with the end result nothing more than re-enforcing existing attitudes. The post-debate Ipsos poll bears that out; when asked who won, 37% opted for Smith, 28% for Redford, 13% for Sherman, and 10% for Mason - similar to the party support levels in most recent polls.
Given she's leading the polls 10 days before the vote, a messy draw was likely good enough for Danielle Smith. If you'd never heard of Danielle Smith before, you'd likely be impressed by her performance - but the woman has been more over hyped than Tim Tebow, and I find her less likable over 90 minutes than in photo ops and sound bytes. There was nothing Laytonesque in her performance, but she gets marks for avoiding the "inside baseball" stuff more than Redford, and framing issues in a way casual voters can understand and relate to.
Alison Redford found herself under attack all night long, even from one of the moderators, Vassy Kepelos, who asked Redford a triple-barrelled question that amounted to "how could anyone in their right mind trust you?". But Redford held her own against each attack, looking very much like a Premier. In most elections, that would be more than enough for the PC leader, but Redford needed to make Danielle Smith look scary, and there was nothing scary about the mostly cheerful Smith who talked about her ability to work with the NDP, and spun Danny Dollars as a way to help the poorest Albertans. Redford failed to land a good soundbyte on conscience rights, and wasted far too much time attacking Smith over trivial insider issues.
Considering Michael Ignatieff made absolutely no headway going after Harper on Carson, Contempt, and Corruption during last May's debate, I don't know what Redford hoped to accomplish by continuing to press Smith over two year old floor crossings. The details are murky enough that it's not a clear cut ethical breach, and even if it were, I can't imagine it would shift a single vote outside of the two ridings in question. With all the things Danielle Smith has written or said in her lifetime, and all the extremist positions her party holds, Redford's inability to land a punch was disappointing.
Raj Sherman was the least polished of the four leaders, and the delivery of his over rehearsed sound bytes was often clunky. Despite the poor style marks, he scored well on content, striking a nice balance between pointing out the conservative nature of the PCs and selling his own party's platform. As expected, he pivoted to Health Care whenever possible, but Sherman held his own on other issues. He did enough to stop the bleeding to the PCs, but I'm skeptical we was compelling enough to win back Redford Liberals.
Brian Mason was the most seasoned debater on stage and looked the most at ease. He played all the NDP greatest hits, promising "results for people" and telling anecdotes of his conversations with Albertans. The only thing missing was a story about him taking Andrea Horwath's son to the emergency room. I suspect a lot of Albertans liked the Brian Mason they saw last night, but I can't imagine he moved many votes. He was short on specifics, and his overall "pro-tax, anti-oilsands" message won't move him far beyond the NDP base.
So where do we go from here?
The debate was a missed opportunity for Redford, leaving her no option but to blanket the Alberta airwaves with anti-Wildrose attack ads. The PC dynasty may be on the way out, but it's going to go out with a bang rather than a whimper.