CALGARY - University of Alberta economist Andrew Leach prepared a bingo game ahead of the provincial election leaders' debate, in which viewers could mark a box every time the politicians uttered energy-related phrases like "cap and trade" and "access to markets."
But any energy policy watchers who tuned in with their bingo dabbers ready were out of luck. Only a couple of the terms passed the leaders' lips during the event — "oilsands" and "world class," by Leach's initial tally, and the latter was in reference to health care, not environmental monitoring.
Leach said he was surprised, not only by his makeshift game's lack of success, but more generally by how little the provincial candidates have delved into energy policy throughout the campaign so far.
"Why aren't we answering the billion-dollar questions?" he asked, adding a lot of the attention thus far has instead been based on hundred-million dollar tax credit announcements.
Those are important, he said. But in a province whose economy is so driven by non-renewable resources "it seems like that's where the lion's share of the campaign should be."
Jack Mintz, at the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy, was similarly dismayed, tweeting on debate night: "Alberta debate and no one asked about energy strategy and the oilsands."
In an interview, he said he doesn't understand why questions over whom the NDP would support in a hypothetical minority government scenario would take precedence over questions over pipeline access, royalties, subsidies for green energy and upgrading raw oilsands bitumen in-province.
"To sort of miss that sort of discussion, given that this is probably one of the most important factors affecting the future of the province, is kind of hard to believe," he said.
Michael Tims, chairman of oilpatch investment dealer Peters & Co., said he hasn't seen energy issues as all that divisive during the campaign — at least between the two front runners, Progressive Conservative Premier Alison Redford and Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith.
Neither are proposing raising royalties on oil and gas companies, and both parties' platforms emphasize the need to diversify Canada's energy exports. The New Democrats differ, in that they want to tweak royalties to encourage oilsands companies to upgrade their bitumen in-province instead of exporting the raw product.
"I don't think anyone sees it as being a useful subject to bring up in the debate because they're not really in disagreement," said Tims, who doesn't consider himself overly partisan, but tends to lean toward the provincial Conservatives.
Industry would "love to see" higher natural gas prices, and a better price for the oil produced in Alberta, "but those aren't really policy matters. Those are market matters," he said.
During her six months as premier, Redford has spent a lot of time touting a Canadian energy strategy and has been an outspoken supporter of controversial pipeline proposals connecting Alberta crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast and Canada's West Coast.
On that count, Redford has the edge, Tims said.
"I'm not saying anything derogatory about Danielle Smith, but I think the premier really understands the industry well and has been extremely well received on visits to Ottawa, Washington and other places."
But on matters of property rights that are important to industry, the Wildrose has been much more outspoken in its position, Tims said.
Tims gets the sense the oilpatch is divided amongst the PCs and Wildrose, and that industry folks will likely make their voting decisions on matters other than energy policy.
Chris Severson-Baker, managing director of the non-partisan environmental think-tank Pembina Institute, said he's been taken aback by how little energy and the environment has been discussed during the campaign so far.
"It's not in keeping at all with the importance of the issues to the province," he said.
Customers of Canada's crude exports have aired concerns about the environmental impacts of developing the oilsands — take much of the U.S. debate over Keystone XL, for example — so it would behoove each of the leaders to go into more detail about how they'll develop that vast resource responsibly, said Severson-Baker.
"None of them have put forward a comprehensive plan that would actually be up to the challenge that we're faced with right now, he said.
"Each party sort of has cherry-picked an issue and talked about it, but that doesn't represent a solution for this issue."
Severson-Baker said it's clear Albertans care about energy development and its associated environmental impacts, and he expects those topics figure more prominently in the final days leading up to the April 23 vote.
Leach said perhaps the leaders have been reluctant to delve too deeply into certain energy issues because of the "third-rail effect."
"The ghosts of the royalty review, so to speak, and the ghosts of the National Energy Program and all of these things come to the surface."
But, he said: "These are conversations we should be having."
Here's a look back at some of the most memorable moments from the campaign.
A blog post saying that gays were destined to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/15/wildrose-anti-gay-blog-alberta_n_1427008.html" target="_hplink">burn in a "lake of fire" for eternity was brought to light on April 16.</a> Allan Hunsperger, a pastor who's running as a Wildrose candidate in Edmonton South, also referenced Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way': "You see, you can live the way you were born, and if you die the way you were born then you will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering." Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said she was aware of Hunsperger's religious views.
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith found herself <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/20/danielle-smith-booed-climate-change-alberta-election-debate_n_1439858.html" target="_hplink">on the receiving end of booing and mockery at a debate on April 19 for questioning climate change .</a> "There is still a debate in the scientific community," said Smith before being drowned out by a chorus of boos and catcalls. PC leader Alison Redford said Smith leading the province would be an embarrassment.
Wildrose candidate Ron Leech <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/17/ron-leech-wildrose-candidate_n_1432653.html" target="_hplink">made some controversial remarks about race on a South Asian radio show.</a> "I think as a Caucasian I have an advantage. When different community leaders such as a Sikh leader or a Muslim leader speaks, they really speak to their own people in many ways. As a Caucasian, I believe that I can speak to all the community," said Leech. He apologized for his remarks on April 24, saying that his comments did not come out the way he intended.
During the April 12 debate, the candidates for the Wildrose, Liberal and NDP took the opportunity to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/12/alberta-election-debate_n_1419850.html" target="_hplink">gang up on Progressive Conservative leader Alison Redford</a>. It was an unsurprising tactic given that the Tories have held power in Alberta for 11 consecutive majority governments, although polls reveal the Wildrose may have a fighting chance.
When the Wildrose first rolled out their campaign bus, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/23/alberta-wildrose-campaign_n_1375998.html" target="_hplink">there was something distinctly odd about the wheel placement </a>in relation to Smith's image. Late night host Jay Leno even poked fun at the busty bus before a new, less suggestive design rolled out.
An April 10 poll showed that Danielle Smith's Wildrose party was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/11/alberta-election-2012-poll_n_1417267.html" target="_hplink">neck and neck with the Progressive Conservatives</a>. The Leger Marketing poll showed the Wildrose has the support of 36 per cent of Albertans, compared to 34 per cent for the governing Tories.
This Hour Has 22 Minutes gave their own take on the Alberta election by poking fun at the similarities between Alison Redford and Danielle Smith. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/03/alberta-election-2012-22-minutes_n_1400747.html" target="_hplink">CLICK TO WATCH</a>
Progressive Conservative staffer<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/31/pc-staffer-resigns-danielle-smith-wildrose-tweet_n_1393807.html" target="_hplink"> Amanda Wilkie "resigned" on March 31 after tweeting</a> "If @ElectDanielle likes young and growing families so much, why doesn't she have children of her own? #wrp family pack = insincere." Backlash came swiftly from the PC, the Wildrose and Twitter users alike. Alison Redford herself issues an apology, but not before Smith revealed that she didn't have children due to fertility issues.
In a moment of levity, but mostly embarrassment for Danielle Smith, the Wildrose leader's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/31/danielle-smith-dogs-wildrose-alberta_n_1394069.html" target="_hplink">dogs got frisky during a photo op in Calgary</a>.
In a province where conservative values dominate politics, Brian Mason's NDP and Raj Sherman's Liberals are left to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/06/alberta-election-liberals-ndp-edmonton_n_1408884.html" target="_hplink">duke it out in left-leaning pockets such as Edmonton</a>.
On April 10, for the second time, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith was called out for her<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/10/danielle-smith-pro-choice-gay-marriage_n_1416319.html" target="_hplink"> supposed opposing stance on abortion and gay marriage</a>. Smith however snuffed out the controversy: "When our members elected me they knew they were electing a candidate that was pro-choice and pro-gay marriage." The issues came up earlier in the election when <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/07/alberta-election-abortion-social-issues_n_1409963.html" target="_hplink">Smith was less forthcoming</a> on the subjects.
Alberta's education minister Thomas Lukaszuk claimed he was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/07/thomas-lukaszuk-assault_n_1410308.html" target="_hplink">assaulted while canvassing in an Edmonton neighbourhood</a>. He said he knocked on the door of a residence with a Wildrose support sign and, once recognized, was punched by the resident within. The resident, Al Michalchuk, says he merely nudged Lukaszuk when he refused to leave.