Spirited verbal sparring highlighted a debate Wednesday night when Saskatchewan Party leader Brad Wall faced NDP leader Cam Broten for a one-hour exchange ahead of the provincial election April 4.
The two leaders covered a range of issues, from the economy, health care and the environment to First Nations, public spending and government accountability.
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The debate format included open segments where the two leaders often clashed and were quick to speak over each other.
"You inherited a jackpot," Broten told Wall when the two were discussing spending on infrastructure. "You inherited a fortune ... a $2-billion rainy day fund and now you've got nothing."
While Broten was pressing his point, Wall noted the record of previous governments under the NDP.
"Your problem, Mr. Broten, is you represent a party that talked about all these infrastructure projects and you didn't get it done," Wall said.
There were many moments when the two leaders could not resist trading sharp criticisms of their respective platforms, among them:
Support for the film industry
Broten was critical of a move to eliminate a subsidy for film makers and highlighted his party's promise to restore a film tax credit.
Wall pointed out that Saskatchewan has been providing grants to support specific film projects.
"Operational funding for school boards is up," Wall insisted during a testy segment of the debate focused on education spending. "There are more teachers here in the province ... 600 more than under [the NDP] government when you lost 400 teachers."
Wall's point could barely be heard as Broten emphasized that some school divisions in the province were bracing for staff cuts.
"I'm going to trust an educator, and administrators and school divisions over the self-interested spin that we've heard from you and your ministers," Broten said.
Private MRI tests
When the two leaders engaged on issues relating to health care, Broten took aim at how private firms were delivering services for medical tests, like MRIs.
"Doctors in this province don't agree with Mr. Wall's plan on this," Broten said.
Wall, however, countered that for each MRI scan done for a person paying for the service at a private MRI clinic, one test would be done for a patient on a public waiting list for the test.
"They will be providing a scan on the public system, reducing that list," Wall said. "It's an innovation we brought to the health care system ... where private clinics in the public system are ... reducing wait times for surgery."
Wall also challenged Broten on the topic.
"You would shut them down," Wall said. "Is that still your position?"
Broten responded that he is committed to a public health care system.
"I wouldn't cancel the clinics that are there right now," he added, saying existing contracts would remain in place.
When the two leaders turned to a question about the environment, there was another clash.
Wall stressed how Saskatchewan has invested in clean coal technology, while Broten criticized how that initiative had been promoted.
Wall and Broten were also invited to address issues relating to First Nations and both spoke about their plans to improve education and job opportunities.
When the debate was opened for them to discuss the topic further, much of what they said could not be heard as the two repeatedly spoke at the same time.
A Donald Trump moment
The Saskatchewan debate also included a reference to the American election process when the name of Donald Trump came up.
Trump, who is running to become the Republican nominee for the presidential campaign, has said he would have Mexico pay for a wall along the U.S. border to deal with illegal migrants.
When Wall and Broten were sparring over their campaign promises, and how they would be funded, the Saskatchewan Party leader claimed the NDP were making Trump-like statements on how to pay for various initiatives.
"You haven't said how you're going to pay for these [promises]," Wall said. "This is the Donald Trump section of your platform. Who's going to pay for this? Mexico?"
Broten quickly rejected Wall's comparison.
"I've never been compared to Donald Trump. That's a first," Broten said.
He added it sounded like Wall was ad-libbing a line.
"I don't think that was on the bingo sheet for key words in this debate," Broten said.
Criticism of 'open debate'
While both parties agreed to the debate format, Wall and Broten frequently chose to speak at the same time. The debate moderator reminded them about letting each other be heard.
Some viewers expressed unhappiness with how the leaders conducted themselves.
"They are doing what so many voters hate about politicians," Bob Anderson, one viewer, said in a note to CBC. "They try to talk over each other and at the same time and as a result no one hears what is said."
Anderson said he finally tuned out, he was so frustrated.
"These people have not learned that intelligent debate means you make your point then listen to a response then in turn respond intelligently," he added. "They seem to revert to grade school antics which leaves me wondering if any more gets accomplished than does in grade school. I fear for our future."