I covered two candidates debates yesterday. One made me totally depressed, but then Altona fixed it.First I went to Kildonan East where an energetic teacher organized an afternoon forum for the Elmwood-Transcona candidates. I went because Tory Thomas Steen was going to emerge from hiding and do battle for the first time.The students asked generally vapid questions ("What will you do for junior high students?") and the candidates were a sad collection. Jim Maloway, the perennial provincial backbencher, blustered a little about the Disraeli Bridge. The Liberal candidate was downright bizarre, rambling about Communists at one point. And Steen only answered questions when he had a tabbed page in his briefing binder he could read from. When he didn't have a pre-written answer, he either declined to speak or apologized and said "I'm new at this." He read virtually every word he uttered, with a bemused and gentle smile. He is by all accounts and appearances a lovely and honourable gentleman, but he is radically out of his depth. Only the Green guy, teacher Chris Hrynkow, made any kind of coherent impression, and a couple of students I spoke to afterward agreed. Standing in the back as the Liberal went on another whacky tangent and Steen riffled through his notes, I wondered if I wasn't witnessing the end of democracy as we know it. This is as bad as it gets.Then I drove to Altona to cover an all-candidates debate in the school board office. I went to check out Tory candidate Candice Hoeppner in the flesh, since she sometimes isn't the best at returning phone calls. She is almost sure to win Portage-Lisgar, and she is a force to be reckoned with. She's uber-organized, smart, well-spoken, well-connected and, let's just say it, attractive. It's not supposed to matter, but it does. Dare I predict: She will be Manitoba's senior minister one day and it might be sooner rather than later.Hoeppner is a very fine candidate amid a batch of fine candidates. Unlike E-T, any one of the five people running in Portage-Lisgar would make a credible MP. You've got the moppy-haired young farmer for the Greens, the rather erudite labour activist for the NDP and the plain-spoken gentleman for the Liberals who made an eloquent plea for tolerance and equality. Even the Christian Heritage candidate (they tend to be the most cringeworthy at these kinds of debates) was confident, likeable and well-spoken.Good candidates are one thing. Smart voters are icing on the cake. As I wrote today, the questions from Altonans were wide-ranging, intelligent and pointed but polite. People floated good ideas. Everyone knew everyone else and they teased each other a little. The debate ran like clockwork with just enough latitude for some older folks who'd earned it. It was a pleasure to witness.Roy MacGregor wrote today that this has been the worst election he's covered in 30 years. If I'd been around to cover all of it and not just the last two weeks, I would probably agree, except I got to go to Altona.