Cost of living, affordable housing key topics raised in federal leaders debate, Albertans say

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, left, and Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole took part in the federal election English-language Leaders debate on Thursday. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, left, and Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole took part in the federal election English-language Leaders debate on Thursday. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The federal debate Thursday saw party leaders battle it out over issues ranging from climate change and reconciliation but some Albertans say there was no clear winner.

Nate Spasiuk, an education tech assistant from Edmonton — who watched the debate as part of a focus group organized by pollster Janet Brown and CBC Edmonton — said the exchange was more about personality than political policy.

"This debate was more about the candidate's characters than their party's platforms," Spasiuk said in an interview with CBC after the two-hour debate concluded.

With 11 days until the election, five federal party leaders took to the stage Thursday at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau for the first, and only, English debate of the 2021 federal election campaign.

Justin Trudeau, Erin O'Toole, Jagmeet Singh, Yves-François Blanchet and Annamie Paul had a lot to say.

But as the leaders clashed over the country's most pressing problems, members of the focus group said they most appreciated the discussions on the cost of living and affordable housing.

Some of the focus group members also said issues like strategies for economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine passports didn't get enough airtime with the federal party leaders.

The highlights

For St. Albert resident Amanda Muir, discussions on human rights issues and reconciliation with Indigenous people stood out.

An exchange over how Canada's economic recovery was also a key moment of the debate for Muir.

"I thought that there was a lot of really good points made on how, without some economic recovery, we're not going to be able to fund any of the social programs or the reconciliation programs or anything like that," she said.

Supplied/CBC Edmonton
Supplied/CBC Edmonton

Some of the focus group members zeroed in on one of the pre-decided topics for the debate: affordability.

For Leduc resident Jake McCoy, hearing from the political party leaders speak on affordable housing was a highlight of the evening.

"As a young person with a lot of monthly bills, I did appreciate a few of the candidates speaking up about the high cost of groceries, the high cost of utilities, the high cost of phone and internet," he said.

"As a person who lives in Canada, I did appreciate that everyone had points on affordable housing, in spite of some of them not being well-articulated."

For Edmonton retiree Paul Boleska, discussions on inflation and a reasonable cost of living were key as Canada's inflation rates have been some of the highest in a decade.

"Groceries are getting crazy. The inflation is high," he said, adding gas prices are very high in the province.

"What's going to happen when [the pandemic] is all over?"

What was missing

Both Muir and Boleska wanted the federal leaders to address a national vaccine passport and COVID-19 vaccines.

"Vaccines have been such a big campaign point, especially for Justin Trudeau. It would have been nice to hear a little bit more specifically on what exactly the plan is, and I think that a lot of people are really wondering that," Muir said.

"The fact that it was just sort of omitted I found a little bit strange."

, many of the 22 respondents said there needed to be more discussion in the debate about the pandemic.

Did the debate change people's minds?

In an online survey run by Brown, about 41 per cent of the 22 Albertans who took part in the focus group said the debate won't affect how they vote.

Some 36 per cent of respondents said the debate might change their vote when they cast their ballot on Sept. 20.

Others like Spasiuk said they still need more information before election night.

"There's still a lot of research I have to do on my own. But the biggest thing I took away from this debate was the personalities of the leaders themselves."

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