Marc bence/for metro edmonton


Alberta political party leaders, from left, Paul Hinman (Wildrose Alliance), Kevin Taft (Alberta Liberals), Ed Stelmach (Progressive Conservatives) and Brian Mason (NDP) get ready to face off in the 2008 leaders debate at the Global TV Edmonton studios yesterday.

Alberta’s political leaders sparred in their first and only televised debate last night, but the gloves rarely came off in a battle that will soon decide if, after 37 years, Alberta has finally tired of the Tories.

Out from the shadow of former premier Ralph Klein, the 90-minute debate thrust the four leaders into the spotlight on the idea of change and leadership — who can move the province in the right direction.

Alberta Liberal Leader Kevin Taft, New Democrat Leader Brian Mason and Wildrose Alliance Leader Paul Hinman all pounced on rookie Conservative Leader Ed Stelmach, grilling him on how he couldn’t present "change" when he was a member of the Tory cabinet for over a decade.

Taft, whose campaign team called Stelmach "bumbling" in several news releases throughout the night, railed the loudest against the Conservative leader while trying to present the Liberals as having the most comprehensive vision for the province.

"Alberta has changed, but it’s the same old PC government — and you can’t deny that Ed Stelmach has been there for years," he quipped.

Stelmach tried to distance himself from the Klein government by reiterating his "practical and achievable" plan he’s brought forward over the past 14 months — while slamming his opposition for left-leaning policies.

"We need new ideas to really face the challenges of growth — not some warmed-over ’70s socialist policy," Stelmach shot back.

Hinman, meanwhile, attacked all parties, especially the Tories: "Change is important, but we need positive change … We’ve changed the head but the beast has remained the same."

With hospitals across the province facing huge staff shortages and growing wait times, all parties vowed that they’d fix the problem, with the Tories, NDP and the Liberals fully supporting a public health-care system.

New Democrat Leader Brian Mason touted his plan to bargain with pharmaceutical companies to buy drugs in bulk, thereby cutting costs and easing strains on the health-care system.

The NDP plan surprisingly grabbed the attention of Stelmach, who said he liked the idea, explaining that such a plan is used in British Columbia.

But Taft ragged Stelmach for not working quickly enough to solve the health-care crisis, citing ongoing shortages of nurses while the Tories funnelled more money into horse racing.

and the winner is…

So, who actually won?

  • Stelmach: "I’m standing as tall as I have before I got here. In fact, I’m standing even taller."

  • Taft: "For all of those (Tory) advantages, they’ve struggled to get their feet under them."

  • Mason: "I really felt like I hit a home run."

  • Hinman: "This is very important for Albertans to get to know what the Wildrose Alliance goal is."

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