Alberta Votes

Alberta leaders debate becomes Jim Prentice, Rachel Notley show

There were four party leaders in Thursday night's TV debate. But for much of the debate, the two main players involved in the most heated exchanges were PC leader Jim Prentice and Rachel Notley of the NDP.

Brian Jean and David Swann sidelined

Alberta Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice and NDP leader Rachel Notley chat as they prepare the leaders debate in Edmonton on Thursday night. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

There were four party leaders in Thursday night's TV debate.

But for much of the debate, the two main players involved in the most heated exchanges were Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice and Rachel Notley of the NDP.  

Although there no clear knockout punches, Prentice focused much of his attention on Notley, sparring over education, corporate taxes, royalties and health care.

Wildrose leader Brian Jean and Liberal leader David Swann targeted Prentice throughout the debate as well. Jean painted himself as the only leader who wouldn't raise taxes, while Swann characterized the Liberals as the best option between extreme left and right parties. They largely stood on the sidelines through many of the Prentice-Notley exchanges. 

At one point, Prentice accused Jean of having a plan for a two-tiered health system. He accused Notley of taking direction from "union bosses," shortly after she promised to reverse PC cuts to the health system.

Even after pokes from Swann or Jean, Prentice chose instead to engage Notley on her proposal to increase corporate taxes or undertake a royalty review.

Prentice suggested holding a royalty review would be destructive for Alberta, citing the divisive debate that occurred over the issue under former premier Ed Stelmach. 

"The last thing we need are NDP policies that are going to damage our competitiveness, things like a royalty review," said Prentice. 

Notley fired back by accusing Prentice of being out of touch with ordinary Albertans.

"Instead of quoting your favourite economist, you might want to listen to what Albertans actually have to say," she said.

Notley challenged Prentice early in the debate over cuts to education, noting the Conservative budget failed to provide additional money for increased enrolment, something school boards have warned will affect every student in the province. 

She linked education cuts to Prentice's refusal to raise corporate taxes in the March budget.

"You're prepared to send 12,000 new kids into the classrooms next September without a teacher because it's more important to you to protect your corporate tax giveaways."

Swann questioned Prentice's commitment to the environment, suggesting he had a lax record as a former federal environment minister. 

"This man does not get it," said Swann. 

Instead of rising to the personal attack, Prentice chose yet again to question the NDP's policy to accelerate phasing out of coal plants in the province.

"This will cost us jobs," warned Prentice, suggesting the NDP plan would cost the province billions. "How are we going to pay for this?"

Notley touted the NDP's platform to create jobs, saying her party is the only one focused on that issue. 

Prentice, Jean clash over fiscal plans

Jean attacked the Conservative record on diversifying the economy, saying PC leaders have promised to do that for decades with little success.

"I just can't handle the diversification he keeps talking about," Jean said.  

Prentice took aim at the Wildrose fiscal plan, which proposes no tax increases but promises to balance the budget by 2017.

"Brian your plan doesn't hang together, which is the worst thing for a conservative to do," said Prentice.

He questioned how many jobs would be lost in the Wildrose plan. "Is it going to be teachers? Is it going to be nurses? What's it going to be Jean?"

Jean dismissed Prentice's comments as "fear-mongering."  

Prentice urged Albertans to re-elect a majority PC government, dismissing any notion of coalitions or a minority government as bad for the province. "We need the stability and the leadership of a conservative, majority government."

Notley made it clear that she's open to a coalition, but stressed she's running in the election to become premier. 

Swann, who was a doctor by profession, accused the Tories of creating a "culture of fear and intimidation" in the health system over the past decade.

So far, Thursday night's debate is the only chance Albertans will have to see the party leaders go head-to-head on television.

Albertans go to the polls May 5.

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