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Smith, Notley square off in Alberta election debate, ask voters who do they trust

Alberta’s two political contenders hammered each other on the issue of trust in the provincial election campaign’s lone debate Thursday.
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Alberta’s two political contenders hammered each other on the issue of trust in the provincial election campaign’s lone debate Thursday.

United Conservative Leader Danielle Smith said you can’t trust NDP Leader Rachel Notley to run the economy while Notley said you can’t trust Smith not to privatize Alberta’s health system.

Voting day is May 29.

Both candidates have been premier — Smith since October and Notley from 2015 to 2019 — and both admitted they’ve made mistakes.

But each argued they have the best vision for a petro-rich province struggling to fix health care and education.

“My commitment to each of you if re-elected is to serve you with everything I have and to the best of my ability, however imperfect that may be at times,” Smith said.

“Whatever I may have said or done in the past while I was (a host) on talk radio, Albertans are my bosses now — and my oath is to serve you and no one else.”

Notley said she, too, may not have always got it right.

“But I say what I mean and I mean what I say,” she said. “If I am premier again, I will work daily to earn your trust and to focus on your priorities.”

The two leaders spent the one-hour televised debate speaking to each other and past each other, launching broad rhetorical salvos mixed with sharp asides on the economy, policing, green energy, education and health care.

The leitmotif was trust, with each leader saying the other hasn’t earned it.

On health, Notley said Smith can’t be trusted not to make Albertans pay for services currently covered by medicare, citing the UCP leader’s past musings that Albertans should pay to see their family doctor.

Notley recounted how, in 2014, Smith promised to never cross the floor as Wildrose Party leader only to lead most of her caucus to join the governing Progressive Conservatives.

“Your understanding of the word ‘guarantee’ is very different than that of most Albertans,” Notley told Smith.

Both Notley and Smith have promised to revitalize primary care to increase access to family doctors.

Smith said her government is making progress on surgical wait lists and reducing ambulance bottlenecks.

The UCP leader said that contrasts with Notley’s time in government, when, Smith said, surgical wait lists climbed while the NDP “continued to build the bureaucracy.”

Smith focused on Notley’s economic record as premier, saying the NDP government took an economy already staggering due to low oil prices and knocked it to the canvas with higher personal and corporate income taxes along with a consumer carbon tax Notley did not campaign on.

“Albertans have a choice between a UCP government that has lower taxes, balanced the budget and returned Alberta to its place as the economic powerhouse of Canada,” said Smith.

“Or we can choose to go backward with the same failed NDP policies that hiked taxes, drove out jobs and investment and almost bankrupted our province.

“We can’t afford to go back.”

Notley countered that the UCP economic stewardship has come at price, with higher utility bills and soaring auto insurance rates.

Both sides promise affordability measures to deal with inflation.

Smith noted the NDP promises to hike the corporate income tax to 11 per cent from eight after the UCP dropped it four points to eight per cent during its term.

Notley said the corporate tax would remain the lowest in Canada while providing money to keep up with population growth.

Both parties are promising hiked spending and reliance on high oil prices to keep the books balanced in the years ahead.

The rivals accused each other of deploying cherry-picked statistics on job numbers and economic forecasts.

Both sides plan to add more police to combat increasing crime in Edmonton and Calgary, particularly on transit.

Smith said Notley’s NDP wants to defund the police. Notley said Smith’s UCP actually defunded the police early in its term by carving off a larger share of photo radar money for itself, only to recently return that cash as the election loomed.

Notley also took aim at the release of the report earlier Thursday by Alberta ethics commissioner Marguerite Trussler.

Trussler concluded Smith contravened the Conflicts of Interest Act and undermined the rule of law by attempting, unsuccessfully, to have the attorney general make the criminal case of a COVID-19 protester “go away.”

“Having learned today that Danielle Smith broke the law, I (promise I) will also protect our law and I will never break it,” said Notley.

Smith fired back that Trussler found no evidence Smith or her office sought to influence COVID cases in emails to prosecutors, as alleged in a CBC story in January.

Smith said she welcomes more direction on legal matters, saying “I’m a non-lawyer.”

Smith also accused Notley of hypocrisy, given a former NDP legislature member was fined for hacking into the government health website to test its fallibility.

“When we were putting together our affordability payments (program it was necessary) to have to ask whether it was going to be hack-proof from the NDP,” said Smith.

“That’s not something that Ms. Notley should be very proud of.”