During any political debate, voters and the media are always looking for the knock-out punch. Brian Mulroney famously destroyed John Turner in one debate in 1984, and Jim Prentice notoriously told Rachel Notley that “math is hard” in 2015, which backfired badly.
So, was there a knock-out punch in the 2019 Alberta leaders’ debate? Nope. Some swings and misses, lots of dodges, a few glancing blows, but no major harm done. By the time it was over, all four competitors were still standing, some just a little taller than the others.
To continue the boxing analogy, the debate had an undercard (Liberal leader David Khan vs. Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel) and a main event (United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney and New Democratic Party – a.k.a the Rachel Notley Party – leader Rachel Notley).
The competitor with the most to lose was Kenney, and nobody really laid a glove on him. As you might expect from a guy who knows nothing but politics, Kenney is a professional blowhard, supremely confident in everything he says. No matter how much Notley went after him, he just batted everything away. He seemed prepared for everything thrown his way, and Notley had no new ammo.
I though Rachael Notley’s performance was curious. She looks haggard, perhaps the result of carrying the entire weight of a government on her shoulders. She read much of what she said from her prepared talking points; shouldn’t she be able to rattle off the rhetoric without reading it from a paper? While she repeatedly went after Kenney, she said almost nothing about the accomplishments of the Rachel Notley Party over the last four years. She seems intent on telling people why they should not vote for the UCP, while forgetting to tell voters why they should vote for the RNP. For example, one of her signature policies – the $15 minimum wage – went unmentioned.
Meanwhile, Jason Kenney really laid into Justin Trudeau, didn’t he? He’s not running against Trudeau, mind you, but he sure clobbered him. Kenney went after Trudeau almost as much as he went after Notley, knowing that Trudeau’s popularity in Alberta is just below toenail fungus. In the undercard, Khan (who is a constitutional lawyer, as he mentioned repeatedly), who knows there is no value in going after Notley and Kenney, went after Mandel, calling one Alberta Party policy “ridiculous”. He even went so far as to suggest that people died from the opioid crisis when he was PC health minister because Mandel didn’t take federal government money. It was a clearly rehearsed cheap shot unworthy of Khan, who otherwise he did much better than anticipated.
So while there was no knock-out punch, no moment that will be replayed over and over, there were still winners and losers.
WINNERS: David Khan and Stephen Mandel. Khan presented the Liberal case skillfully, and Mandel was the appealing of the bunch (although why he didn’t wear a tie and a properly fitted suit was beyond me). Neither one had to worry about being the centre of attention, but as supporting players they outshone the stars. (And yes, I know I’m mixing my metaphors here.)
DRAW: Jason Kenney. If the polls are right, this is still Kenney’s to win. He was respectful (calling Notley ‘premier’ repeatedly), and never got rattled. It’s hard to knock a voracious political animal off his feet, and nobody could do it.
LOSER: Rachel Notley. Not a real loser, just the least impressive in many ways. Try as she might, she could not best Kenney. She failed to boast about her government accomplishments, perhaps because two of them (the carbon tax and the $15 minimum wage) are so contentious. The RNP policy is to demonize Kenney, and Notley stuck to the script. But when the script isn’t working, it’s time to improvise, and she didn’t. I don’t think the debate moved the needle much, but it might have secured a seat for Khan in Calgary, and Mandel in Edmonton, and hopefully a few more players from both of those parties. (My old Liberal MLA pal. Mo Elsalhy is running in Edmonton South-West. If you live in that riding, you can’t go wrong with Mo.)
Still on the provincial election scene, anti-UCP deep research continued to lay waste to UCP candidates. This week, an old clip of UCP MLA Mark Smith seemingly questioning whether gay love is good love was leaked. And a document he wrote supporting the firing of gay teachers from Catholic schools also made an appearance. Then, a 2012 sermon by UCP candidate Roger Reid, where he said a book with some anti-Muslim views by evangelical Christian Charles Colson was “one of his favourite books” was released. And just for good measure, another candidate was taken to task for taking aim at the UN.
The UCP is being painted as a haven for the religious right and crackpot theories. The evidence is pretty hard to dispute, but Kenney is just brushing it aside. With two weeks to go, I suspect there will be more dirt to be uncovered. Pasty-faced political operatives are mining years of social media posts, trying to find anything damaging. Again, as a warning to anyone who is interested in getting into politics – stay away from social media!
This will be the last I’ll write about Jody Wilson-Raybould and the SNC-Lavalin scandal/affair. Honest. I’m sick of the whole thing.
Let’s be honest about JWR; the Liberal caucus had no option but to turf her. The case against Jane Philpott is weaker, but I guess kicking her out just saved the caucus of doing it later. That doesn’t make it any easier on Justin Trudeau. The holier-than-thou media types have piled on in a big way (“Rotting of the Liberal soul”, Andrew Coyne sniffed), but realistically what choice was there? JWR repeatedly blasted her own party’s leader. Her release of her private conversation with Michael Wernick last week was the last straw. It was flat-out unethical to tape the conversation without his knowledge, and releasing it was vindictive. Clearly, she had to go. You can’t have one of your players repeatedly undermining the coach if you want to win.
But isn’t she a hero, as so many in the media seem to think? Well, aside from Philpott, how many others joined her crusade? The number is zero, including all the “strong women” in the cabinet. Trudeau is now paying the price for his “feminist” position. Speaking to something called the Daughters of the Vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday – the day after JWR and Philpott were turfed – anywhere from 25 to 50 of the young women turned their backs on him for daring to do something so unfeminist.
So let’s see if I understand this … if two men had done exactly what JWR and Philpott had done, they would be kicked out of caucus. But apparently, women are exempt, because, well, they are “strong women” and a feminist would have to support them regardless of what they did. Getting kicked out of caucus had nothing to do with gender, and everything to do with trying to destroy your team from within. Trudeau, as usual, didn’t have the balls to say that.
I’m sick of this whole thing. Clearly, Trudeau was wrong to press the SNC-Lavalin issue as strongly as he did – but he did nothing illegal, as JWR herself has said. JWR is correct in being upset with the pressure that was brought to bear on her, but after making her point in her testimony before the justice committee, her illegal wiretap went too far. There was no conceivable way she could have stayed in caucus.
The damage to brand Trudeau is probably irreparable. Angus Reid’s most recent poll, released on March 28, has the Liberals trailing by nine percentage points, with 28 per cent support compared to 37 per cent for the Conservatives. “This is less of a result of the Conservative party surging and more the result of Liberal support just bleeding all over the place,” said Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute. Whether Conservative leader Howdy Doody can cash in on this remains to be seen.
In the world of sports, the NHL season is over. I assume there are still playoffs to be played, but as an Edmontonian, there is no post-season. No, I will not throw my allegiance to the Calgary Flames just because they’re an Alberta team (my Edmonton roots won’t allow that), and I would never support the Toronto Maple Leafs (my Western Canadian roots, and my loathing for the eastern media bias towards the Leafs won’t allow it either). I guess Winnipeg is an acceptable alternative, but for me, if my team isn’t in the playoffs, I have no interest.
And speaking of no interest, did you hear that the Alliance of American Football folded this week? Or, better question, have you ever heard of the Alliance of American Football? No? You’re not alone.
The AAF is (or was) a spring professional football league, with plenty of money behind it. It was seen as a real threat to the venerable CFL, as the players were signed to guaranteed contracts that paid them better than most of them would have earned in the CFL. The league was banking on the insatiable appetite for football in the U.S., which proved to be plenty satiable after all. The eight-team league opened to small crowds that got even smaller, almost Toronto Argonauts small. The league never made it to a championship game, suspending play last week just eight weeks into the season.
And finally, a couple of Donald Trump items (sorry, I just can’t resist these ones). Trump has decided to threaten to close the border with Mexico, going so far as to say (and I’m not making this up): “The country is full”. But that wasn’t even the best Trumpism. In comments to the media about the U.S. relationship with Germany, Trump blathered on about how wonderful Germany is, even saying that his father was born in a small town in Germany.
Trump’s father was born in New Jersey.
Dan Robbins, 93, creator of the concept of paint by numbers.