Alberta NDP debate buoyed by surging poll numbers

EDMONTON – Buoyed by surging poll numbers in Edmonton and Lethbridge and strong fundraising figures, more than 200 ebullient New Democrats packed an Edmonton university hall Thursday to hear the final debate among the party’s three leadership candidates.

The amicable debate at Campus Saint-Jean featuring community organizer Rod Loyola, MLA David Eggen and MLA Rachel Notley yielded no clear winner, as the candidates never disagreed and each received hearty applause for hitting on popular policy points.

Written questions touched on policies in support of small business, ideas to address the shortage of long-term care beds, education, youth unemployment and the most pressing issue for a fourth-place party aiming to capture the vacant centre of Alberta’s political spectrum — party building.

“There is a reason the conservatives pretended to be progressive in the last election, and there is a reason (Wildrose Leader) Danielle Smith is trying to appear progressive,� front-runner Rachel Notley said. “Alberta is changing.�

She said Albertans are not happy with the shortage of doctors, the “complete abandonment of our environmental responsibility,� and the failure to use energy resources to benefit all Albertans.

“We need to put time, energy and resources into a wider part of the province, not just Edmonton,� she said, referring to the party’s concentrated support in the capital.

Later, she said a recent poll showed NDP candidate Shannon Phillips would win the seat in Lethbridge-West if an election were held today.

During the debate, Eggen emphasized his work ethic and success at adding memberships in his Edmonton-Calder constituency.

“By the sweat of your brow, that’s how you build a party,� he said.

In part, he pledged to regulate utility rates, transition Alberta to a renewable energy economy and implement rent controls.

He pilloried Tory moves to privatize seniors’ care and said the Progressive Conservatives changed their language to circumvent laws that set standards for “long-term care� beds.

“They want to get that nurse out of there,� he said, referring to the law, which requires a nurse be present in a long-term care facility. “They want to remove that price cap so they can charge whatever they want.�

Loyola urged New Democrats to build relationships with advocates who are already fighting for what the party believes in.

On education, he said current thinking casts students as “consumers� of education: “This is a financial view, not an educational one,� he said to applause.

On temporary foreign workers, he said: “If they’re good enough to work in Alberta, they’re good enough to stay in Alberta.�

In his closing, he focused not just on social justice, but on economic justice.

“We must remember that there are poor because there are rich,� he said, “and there are rich because there are poor.�

karenkleiss@edmontonjournal.com

twitter.com/ablegreporter

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Review our blog from the Alberta NDP leadership debate in Edmonton, Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014.

Mobile users can view the blog here: http://live.edmontonjournal.com/Event/Alberta_Provincial_Politics/mobile

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