By RENÉE FRANCOEUR
Two Alberta party leaders battled it out on the debate floor at Red Deer College Thursday evening.
Wildrose party leader Danielle Smith and Brian Mason, head of the Alberta NDPs, made the stop as part of their province-wide debate tour to bring politics closer to Alberta students.
Mason, with his entertaining and quick jabs at Smith’s platform points, conquered the debate, according to the 100 plus audience who gave him a resounding applause at the end.
Three years ahead of the next provincial election, the party leaders began the debate series as a way to spark a deeper interest in politics among the younger generations and remind Albertans they can choose to end the Progressive Conservative dynasty in the province.
“It’s to get people thinking about Alberta after the PCs are no longer the government. They’ll have been there for 45 years by the time this term is over. We want people to think about what the alternatives are,” Mason said. “We’re also trying to get more younger people engaged. They have a lower voter turnout as is well known and the third reason we’re doing this is to show people in general that politics doesn’t have to be nasty. It can be meaningful and you can also have fun doing it.”
Lively and good-natured, the debate featured a number of jokes and witty punches passed back and forth between the leaders, almost always accompanied by a smile.
“Many people who were going to vote for other parties voted PC in the last election because they were afraid of the Wildrose,” Mason said during the debate. “They realized they were jumping out of frying pan and into fire and what we really need to do is reach over and turn off gas.”
The crowd roared with laughter and applause.
The face of the Wildrose had comebacks of her own, remarking to Mason that some people in Ontario “barely survived” the NDP government of Bob Rae.
“He’s a Liberal now, Danielle. Come on,” Mason countered.
Other topics included urban sprawl, pipelines, environmental protection form the oilsands, public services delivery and government revenue and expenses.
Neither leader was opposed to the east-west pipeline plan. Mason noted the Alberta government needs to take more responsibility when it comes to meeting carbon emission targets, water monitoring and remediation of tailings ponds.
Meanwhile Smith touched on the importance in “greening the grid” for electricity and switching to natural gas as a transition fuel.
Both leaders also condemned the Redford government’s decision to close Red Deer’s Michener Centre, a live-in facility for those with physical and mental disabilities.
“I think it’s cruel and wrong,” Mason said.
“You can’t just take those who have complex needs and put them into a regular long-term care facility . . . The government needs to reverse its decision,” echoed Smith.
The pair will hold three more debates and are headed to Keyano College in Fort McMurray next week.