It was standing room only at the Highwood forum. (CBC)

The atmosphere inside the Foothills Community Centre in Okotoks, Alta., was electric — even a tad hasty. 

From shouts of supports to heckling, it was an eventful two-hour debate in the riding of Highwood

With roughly 600 people in attendance, many of whom were standing against walls and in doorways, this forum was the latest sign of just how high the interest level of Albertans is in this election.

In the crowd, it appeared that most were clearly already in either the Wildrose or Progressive Conservative camp.  


Liberal candidate Keegan Gibson won some laughs, if not many supporters, by admitting he could hardly believe he was running in Alberta's election. (CBC)

As I mentioned on Twitter during the forum, Liberal candidate Keegan Gibson is a clear underdog in the riding, but he won over the crowd with his honesty and humour. 

He often joked about how he didn't know his party's policies on certain issues or poked fun at his lack of experience — a month ago he was just your average university student with no political ambitions.   

At one point he even declared, "I haven't even always voted Liberal," a remark that drew appreciative laughter from the crowd.

For John Barlow, the evening must have been quite a welcome entry to provincial politics.


PC candidate John Barlow, a former newspaper editor, has a wide base of support. (CBC)

Not only was it his first debate as a PC candidate, but it was in front of a boisterous crowd and one of his opponents could very well be the next premier of Alberta.   

No pressure....  

The crowd seemed to enjoy Barlow's responses to education and water rights, but many grumbled about his lukewarm defense of the health superboard as well as his remark that PC MLAs have free votes already in the legislature.  

Smith received strong crowd support when proclaiming she will decentralize the health superboard and return more property rights to residents.


Wildrose leader Danielle Smith even admitted she's in a battle on her home turf. (CBC)

She seemed to struggle a little more when asked about robocalling and whether parties are using local businesses to purchase campaign materials like signs and brochures.    

One noticeable aspect of watching Smith was the fact she kept going over the time limit for her responses and thus, was frequently cut off by the moderator.  

On property rights:  

Barlow: "Our rural property rights have never been stronger under new rural rights legislation. Honestly, this is something people need to understand."  

Smith: "Every time land owner and lease rights stand in the way of what this government wants to do, they pass new legislation."  

Gibson: "I'll work with my party to repeal bills."

On conscience rights: 

Barlow: "We are in a society now where we respect diversity, we should embrace our diversity."  

Smith: "When our members elected me, they knew they were electing a candidate that was pro-choice and pro-gay marriage."  

Gibson: "The government should not legislate on issues of morality."