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‘No real winner’ in first Alberta NDP leadership debate: expert Achi-News

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‘No real winner’ in first Alberta NDP leadership debate: expert

 Achi-News

Achi news desk-

ETHBRIDGE, ALTA. –

An Alberta political scientist said the NDP leadership hopefuls remain fairly evenly matched following the first of the party’s debates.

The five candidates vying to be the next leader of the Alberta NDP took the stage in Lethbridge Thursday night to plead their case to party members.

Kathleen Ganley, Sarah Hoffman, Gil McGowan, Naheed Nenshi and Jody Calahoo Stonehouse are all vying for the top opposition job.

“No real winner, but I think some have raised their profile a bit. I think Stonehouse for people who didn’t know her did very well. And when Gil McGowan actually joked about it, it shocked people,” said Trevor Harrison, a political scientist with the University of Lethbridge.

While the debate was fairly tame, a few punches were still thrown.

Nenshi, the presumptive front-runner and former mayor of Calgary, took more criticism than the other candidates.

Hoffman in particular seemed to make a point of going after Nenshi.

“There was a bit of feistiness, especially between Sarah Hoffman and Naheed Nenshi. Questions that are really central to its appeal. Is he really an NDPer or is he an interloper?” said Harrison.

Despite the added pressure, Harrison believes Nenshi has been able to stay calm under pressure.

“Overall, I think he handled himself well. It was not only conciliatory but its entire appeal reached out and expanded the tent of the National Development Plan,” he said.

One of the biggest talking points during the debate was finding out how the party could make up ground in rural ridings.

Outside of Edmonton or Calgary, the party has consistently struggled to win seats.

Although emphasis is placed on attracting rural voters, there is no consensus as to who would be the best leader to do so.

“In terms of whether anyone stood out as someone who could maybe bring rural voters into the fold, it’s hard to say,” said Harrison.

Two more debates will be held with one in Calgary on May 11 and one in Edmonton on June 2.

Harrison expects that candidates will likely spend much of the next debates talking about the controversial Bill 20 that has just been introduced in the legislature.

If passed, the bill would allow the province to remove city councillors, repeal municipal by-laws and allow for the creation of political parties at the local level for Calgary and Edmonton.

The candidates’ stance and response to the measure could be key to securing the necessary votes.

“Because nobody talked about it last night, but going into Calgary then going into Edmonton I suspect we will see a lot of discussion on the changes to municipal governance,” said Harrison .

The last day for party members to vote for the next Alberta NDP leader is June 22.

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