Skip to main content

No clear winner in Alberta leaders debate but Smith, Notley got messages across

The two party leaders vying to be Alberta's next premier faced off Thursday night in the campaign's only debate.

Experts say both Rachel Notley and Danielle Smith were effective in getting their messages across, but you'd have to look hard to see a clear winner.

After two and a half weeks of campaigning, the two front runners made a direct pitch to voters Thursday night.

"When I say something, I mean it, and that's the difference between Danielle and me," Notley said.

"If you elect a UCP government, you're going to get lower corporate taxes. You're not going to get surprise taxes," Smith said.

Ahead of what might be Alberta's closest-ever election, every promise and appearance matters.

And in that regard, experts say both leaders were effective.

Notley was able to get out her message on the economy:

"Over three years, we would maintain a surplus of $3.6 billion."

And Smith had enough time to use an old winning UCP formula:

"She’s going to walk in lockstep with Justin Trudeau ... her boss, Jagmeet Singh."

In between, there were the usual jabs.

There was also policy talk.

Health care has quickly become issue No. 1 for many voters.

Smith claims the UCP is ahead on that front:

"Hospital wait times are down, EMS response times are down."

The NDP says it'll be next to impossible to fill all of Alberta's staffing vacancies under the UCP.

Despite some testy back and forth, experts said neither leader definitively came out on top.

"I don't think there was a clear winner. I don’t think there were any knockout blows landed," said Lori Williams, Mount Royal University political scientist.

Williams said Smith started strong but struggled in the debate's unscripted portions, and Notley wasn't effectively able to highlight Smith's mistakes to appeal to undecided voters.

"This isn't like the 2015 debate with Jim Prentice. It's not going to change the momentum of the campaign. It's not, by itself, going to have a material impact," Williams said.

A body-language analyst agreed.

"They both had moments when they were a little spotty, as far as their communication was concerned," Robyn Braley said.

He also pointed out a noticeable lack of eye contact by one leader.

"She made it really obvious that she wasn't listening to what Rachel was saying," Braley said.

Both leaders will head into the last 10 days of campaigning with confidence, and claims of a lopsided debate win.

"Albertans want a government that is focused on their interests," Smith said at a media scrum following the debate.

"We have nothing but evidence that the momentum is always building," Notley said at the scrum.

In between the arguing, Smith told Albertans she'll extend Alberta's fuel tax rebate and build a reliable power grid.

Notley said she'll balance the budget and lower utility bills.