Alberta Election - Leaders Debate in Edmonton


The two leading candidates to become Alberta’s premier met face-to-face in Edmonton Thursday night for the only televised leaders’ debate before the May 29 election.


Both have led the province before and both showed up in blue jackets, the main color of the United Conservative Party.


NDP leader Rachel Notley was prime minister from 2015 to 2019 and UCP leader Danielle Smith is trying to retain her seat and her party’s majority in the legislature.


Smith focused his opening remarks on the economy, talking about balancing budgets, affordability measures and tax cuts.


He said the previous NDP government “failed” with policies that raised taxes and killed jobs.


Notley began with a salute to firefighters battling the wildfires and an expression of concern for evacuees in Alberta.


He then promised to lower household costs, create more jobs and build a better health care system.


Notley said Albertans could not trust Smith to run the province and said he “breaks the law” by violating conflict of interest rules, referring to a report by the ethics commissioner released Thursday.



The NDP has repeatedly pointed to comments Smith has made in support of private, out-of-pocket healthcare and Notley attacked her for it from the start.


“I’ve known you for at least a decade, maybe more, and I’ve watched your career. And you’ve passionately argued in multiple arenas to … get people to pay more for their health care,” Notley said.


“Why don’t you just go with what you believe? Why aren’t you honest with Albertans?”


Smith has signed a “public health care guarantee” and again vowed that he will not charge Albertans out-of-pocket to see a doctor.


She did not respond to Notley’s questions, instead shrugging off past musings about more private provision of health care and using spending accounts or insurance to pay for a family doctor.


“I know Ms. Notley likes to show blurry videos of things I said while on the radio, and the reason she does that is because she doesn’t want to run on her record,” Smith said.


“Speaking of hoax, did you remember that he ran for a carbon tax in the last election? Surely not.”


On the subject of medical care, Smith argued that his plan to speed up surgeries is working.


His party supports “publicly funded” health care delivery, while Notley wants more services funded and delivered by a public system.


The NDP promises an aggressive plan to attract new health workers to the province and said Smith has disrespected doctors and nurses by showing sympathy for people who have fought against COVID-19 vaccine mandates.


“Our doctors, nurses, paramedics and other healthcare professionals are the heroes of our healthcare system. Everybody knows that,” Smith said, brushing off Notley’s comments.



Smith said Notley will not “fight Ottawa” and argued that his agreement with the federal Liberals’ plan to build a net-zero energy system by 2035 will increase utility rates for all Albertans.


Smith said his UCP supports achieving that goal by 2050.


But Notley argued that there are economic opportunities, including new jobs, in creating a greener system.


“I know you like to fight. You want to fight Ottawa, you want to fight the media. You want to fight, frankly, yourself. It’s actually quite exhausting,” he said.


“This is what I need Albertans to know. I will always stand up for Alberta… I made sure we had a pipeline to tidal water, the first in 50 years.”


Smith said the fact that the NDP supports an emissions cap in the province is a de facto production cap for oil and gas and argued that some of its candidates have made their feelings about the industry very clear.


“Mrs. Notley has so many anti-oil and gas candidates that I have lost count, including one who compared it to slavery. And I note that she has not apologized yet, nor have you,” Smith said.


Notley ignored that statement but said he agrees with Smith on some of the UCP’s plans to diversify the resource sector.


“I want to create jobs that produce energy. I want to create jobs by improving our energy and I want to create jobs by reducing our emissions,” Notley said.


The NDP leader said the person putting oil and gas investment at risk is Smith by creating uncertainty when his UCP government passed a sovereignty law.



Both leaders were asked about perceived weaknesses in their campaigns.


Smith was asked about the ethics commissioner’s report Thursday that found she contravened the Conflict of Interest Act during a conversation she had with her attorney general about a high-profile COVID-19 case.


The UCP leader did not respond to a reporter’s question, instead attacking Notley over his economic record.


Notley was asked about Albertans who do not trust their party to manage the province’s finances.


“I was very pleased to present a fairly well thought out cost document for our platform. And that document guarantees that over three years we would maintain a cumulative surplus of $3.6 billion,” Notley said before turning his attention to Smith.


“I have been in office since 2008. I have never actually violated conflict of interest legislation. Ms. Smith cannot say the same.”


The leaders also exchanged comments on education with Smith saying the UCP has built more schools than the NDP and Notley vowing to respect educators and protect their jobs.


Smith attacked an NDP promise to raise the corporate tax rate for large companies to 11 percent, but Notley has argued that it is a way to help balance the budget, noting that it would still be the lowest rate in Canada.


Both parties promised to increase public safety with more police, and Notley said they would also hire social workers and fund affordable housing.


Smith accused the NDP of wanting to “defund the police” and said the PCU’s recent public security measures are giving officers “courage and confidence”.


Notley criticized the UCP for cutting municipal subsidies for policing, saying the party “actually defunded the police”.


Early polls open in Alberta on Tuesday.


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