Taft - "The Tories are old and bad at governance. PLEASE LIKE ME!!!"
Hinman - "You're all socialists... lower my taxes. Do I sound enough like Preston Manning?"
Stelmach - "We're working on that, or something close to it. Stop throwing things at me, Thomson..."
Mason - "Here's how to fix things... Taft, you're an idiot."
Well, Nation, the debate has come and gone. Much has been written already, so I'll try to be as succinct as possible.
Grades are not based on an objective scale, but rather on whether the leader in question achieved what they needed to... So, a "C" grade in the debate could be issued to someone who did remarkably better on the mic than someone who got a "B" - they just didn't do what they NEEDED to do, going into an election.
Kevin Taft had to come out of this debate looking like he was ready to lead the hottest economy in the Western Hemisphere... his goal was to shore up support on the Left in light of sagging polling numbers in Edmonton, and try to poach some Red Tories. I believe he failed on both counts. His attempts to seem congenial looked forced and disingenuous, and he spent far too much time criticizing the policies of Ralph Klein, who (when last I checked) isn't running for anything in 2008. He certainly had his moments, but he came across as too ascerbic, especially when yelling back and forth with Mason. Taft had to lay out his plan for how to run the province starting on March 4th, and instead he spent most of the debate either picking nits with Brian Mason or talking about the past. Grade: C+
Paul Hinman came across as a old-school Reformer, which will play very well in the rural South, where he's hoping realistically to win 3 to 5 seats, including his own. His mention of competition in healthcare, and his somewhat old-fashioned response regarding child-care aren't going to sway many centrist Tories over to his camp, but this province had hundreds of thousands of federal Reform Party members back in the late 90's - and he got his message across that they have someone to vote for in this election. He seemed a little uncomfortable, and much too interested in his notes than the camera, but the content was idealogically sound, even if the delivery was less than perfect. Grade: B+
Ed Stelmach went in as the guy with the most to lose. Although the bar was set fairly low for Ed based on his notoriously un-Ralph-like speaking style, he still had to convince viewers that he was a far better manager than he was a debater. Ed knew his figures, although he did seem to have a couple of brain cramps, ignoring one question to go off an a whole other tangent, and not seeming to get Mason's point about a 10-year plan to end homelessness being far too long. He missed a few obvious opportunities to slam his attackers, but as we've said, Ed's not a "debate guy". He could have stood to start a few more sentences with the phrase "Since I became Premier 14 months ago..." and then gone on to list an accomplishment. He came out of this relatively unscathed, despite what the Liberal website suggests, and that's a "win" as far as Ed is concerned. He even had a couple of unexpected moments where he came off as a bit "fiery" (again, not the Klein "go &#*@ yourself" fiery, but fiery for Ed), and seemed at times to be "the average guy" - not a super-slick politician, throwing up his hands at the constant interruptions of the othe leaders, etc... He may have lost a few votes on the far right to Hinman over tax policy, but the combination of Ed's steady-if-not-spectacular performance and Taft's carping about the past likely kept the Red Tories inclined to vote PC rather than Liberal. Grade: B
Brian Mason doesn't believe for a second he is going to be Alberta's next Premier. I think he used the term "NDP Government" once, and then stopped because he knew he wouldn't be able to keep a straight face. His job last night was to convince Liberal voters, especially in Edmonton, that he was the man to lead the Opposition for the next 4 years. He came off as a man with constructive ideas, if perhaps a little too tied into party doctrine (something all 4 leaders could be accused of on occasion). He was making suggestions as to how to make things better, instead of complaining contantly about how bad things were... and he launched a pretty effective attack on Taft, trying to lump Kevin in with the Tories, and therefore painting the NDP as the only real left-of-centre alternative. Overall, Mason's performance played well among his core, and likely swayed some northern Liberals over to Team Orange. Grade: B+
Two B plusses, a B, and a C plus... clearly, I'm not issuing the cabinet report cards. :)
Alberta Green leader George Read has pledged to have his responses up on YouTube by 12 noon... I'll link, if and when it happens.