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Fact checking the Alberta Leaders' Debate

Experts say Thursday's Leaders' Debate didn't produce any knockout punches -- but it does warrant a replay. 

It was difficult at times to pick out the difference between fact and fiction in the fast-paced head-to-head battle, but both leaders were guilty of stretching the truth. 

CTV News spent some time with the debate transcript to make things a little clearer.

CLAIM: "Where do you think Justin Trudeau got the idea for 'just transition' and for an emissions cap and for a carbon tax? He got it from Ms. Notley when she was premier"

TRUTH: Danielle Smith might've been overstating to make a point, but she was way off on this one. The American labour movement is credited with penning 'just transition,' and the carbon tax dates back to 2007: long before Rachel Notley came into power.

CLAIM: "Most Albertan utility bills look more like a mortgage payment"

TRUTH: Notley was exaggerating when she stated the average utility bill under Smith is equal to a home payment. Data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation says the average mortgage in the province's two cities hovers around $1,500. The average utility bill can vary based on location, usage and rate plan, but it typically sits -- on average -- below $300 a month.

CLAIM: "That'll cost $52 billion and increase your power bill another 40 per cent" 

TRUTH: This Smith claim about the NDP's net-zero goals was originally costed a lot higher -- until the author of one of the cited reports stepped in to correct the conservatives. The new numbers the UCP leader rolled out during the debate have been debunked by CTV News and every climate expert we've spoken with. Those experts say the data used to come to this conclusion is faulty and there could actually be a financial net gain to the NDP endeavour. The UCP disagrees.

As many as 1,000 ENMAX customers are at risk of having their power and heat cut off for unpaid bills, CTV News has learned.

CLAIM: "183,000 jobs were lost in the first couple of years"

TRUTH: The UCP has repeatedly stretched the truth when it comes to the NDP government's economic impact. Economists say this claim about job losses is either completely false, or a figure that's the result of some very spotty math. Statistics Canada data actually shows an increase of more than 42,000 jobs during Notley's four years in power. A prominent economist agrees with the NDP leader pointing out Thursday "if we were to use your means of coming up with that number, the number of jobs lost under the UCP would be over 250,000."

CLAIM: "Come June, they're going to have to pay that back and that's going to cost about half of Alberta families about $200 million"

TRUTH: According to numbers from Notley's own party, her claims about the UCP's utility rebate were off by as much as 13 per cent and $20 million. $200 million was the starting number of the utility displacement, but some of that money has already been paid off.

CLAIM: "We're reducing surgical wait times"

TRUTH: The NDP tells CTV News it really took exception to Smith's claims about improving health care. A report released this week from the Canadian Institute of Health Information shows surgery waits have actually increased from 2019 to 2022. "Ask any doctor if health care is better under the UCP," a staffer said. The system suffers from long wait times almost across the board and has low staffing levels, something not unique to Alberta. On Saturday, the UCP reached out to CTV News to claim Smith's original quote was referring to an improvement in the last few months -- something she did not specify during the debate. In early 2023, AHS numbers do show the number of patients waiting longer "than clinically recommended" for surgery has dropped, but the waits are still longer now than they were when the party first formed government in 2019.

CLAIM: "We were number three in the world. By 2018, we were number 43."

TRUTH: Smith says the Fraser Institute's Global Petroleum Survey saw Alberta's business environment ranking drastically drop under the NDP. That survey's policy perception Index does have the province fall, but not in the way the UCP leader alleges it did. In 2015, Alberta was ranked 26 out of 126. In 2018, it dropped to 43 out of 80.

CLAIM: The framing of the ethics commissioner's report

TRUTH: Some clever narrative framing from Smith tried to convince voters that the report was actually good news for the UCP leader. While it didn't provide proof Smith spoke to crown prosecutors, it did show Smith interfered in the justice system in a way that is a "threat to democracy" when she spoke with the attorney general.


Smith noticeably stretched the truth more than Notley did Thursday. 

Mount Royal University political science professor Lori Williams

Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams says it was obvious the UCP Leader wasn't completely forthcoming. 

"Smith is very good at looking believable when she’s saying things that aren’t true, and I guess that could be an advantage if some of the people watching believed what she was saying," Williams told CTV News. "The whole ethics commissioner report: somehow suggesting that she’d been cleared and the NDP and the CBC lied...I guess that will appeal to the base, but is that going to persuade anyone who is on the fence? I rather doubt it."

Experts say the lies erode trust in our democratic system -- especially when they're coming in fast and furious. 

"Because it's difficult to fact check every actual comment that is made, especially in a freewheeling debate like that," political analyst John Brennan said. "You almost need to have somebody who is really up on all the issues literally fact check it as it goes along and sort of just do a running Twitter thread on it."