VANCOUVER – Pointed questions and occasionally barbs were aimed at the four leaders vying to become British Columbia’s next premier, but answers were more elusive in a television debate that was at times fiery but usually civil.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark was attacked in the all-candidates television debate Monday night for everything from the Liberal government’s decision to bring in the hated HST to her early morning decision to run a red light.
NDP Leader Adrian Dix was put on the spot over when his party would balance its budget if in government and how his party’s plans for boosted skills and training would translate into jobs for British Columbians.
Green Party Leader Jane Sterk quizzed both Clark and Dix on their environmental policies, and Conservative Leader John Cummins trolled for votes by pointing out the Liberals weren’t likely to win the election so casting a vote in his direction would send a message.
But the most hard-fought exchanges were between Clark and Dix, as they jousted over whose economic platforms were likely to leave the province in better shape.
The HST “damaged every business on the way in and on the way out,” Dix charged, throwing out early the issue that did more than any other to damage Liberal fortunes in the province and prompted former premier Gordon Campbell to resign.
Clark responded that she had kept a commitment to give British Columbians a say in the matter and instead tried to focus the discussion on what the Liberals regard as an NDP platform that does nothing to create jobs.
The NDP has made skills training a focus of its platform, saying the Liberals have cut money for those programs.
“Instead of investing in skills training, the government has cut skills training,” Dix said.
Retorted Clark: “In your plan, Mr. Dix, you’re talking about training people and giving them the education they need to go find jobs in Alberta.”
Clark touted her government’s record, saying in the last two years it has done more than any other government in the country to contain spending. She said her party has a vision for how British Columbia will become debt-free.
“If you compare that to the out-of-control spending that the NDP is proposing for British Columbia, it’s going to mean higher taxes, and it means we will likely never be able to balance a budget,” she said.
“The NDP plan would rob Peter to pay Paul, hoping that Paul will vote for the NDP. My plan is to put both Peter and Paul to work so they can realize the great opportunities of this province, and they won’t have to wait for government to give them a plan.”
Dix shot back, suggesting Clark’s jobs plan has been a failure, with the economy losing thousands of private-sector jobs rather than building them.
“Neither Peter nor Paul are working,” he said.
Sterk suggested neither the NDP nor the Liberals were giving British Columbians the full picture.
“The B.C. Liberals have a fantasy budget that’s based for the election, and I think the NDP has used that budget for the revenue numbers. We can’t tell for sure because theirs is nothing more than a PowerPoint,” Sterk said, acknowledging the Green Party likely won’t form government but its MLAs would take a careful look at the province’s books.
The debate also saw uncomfortable questions being asked of leaders that had little to do with government policy.
Cummins was grilled on his party’s forced decision to eject four candidates from its ballot due to unacceptable online postings and a drunk-driving investigation in one case.
Dix was asked about his decision in 1998 to backdate a memo while he was a top aide to former premier Glen Clark. The memo was intended to show that Clark had distanced himself from discussions involving a casino application — an issue which later prompted police to raid Clark’s house and later, force him to resign. Clark also fired Dix, a close friend.
“It was my mistake, I take responsibility and have ever since, ” Dix said. “I was 35 years old and I made a serious mistake.”
And Christy Clark was asked why she appeared to be incapable of rallying women to vote for her, and she was also questioned about her decision to run a red light, a move which she acknowledged again Monday was a terrible mistake and set a lousy example for her son.
“There is no other answer for the people of British Columbia other than to say it was wrong, I was wrong to do it,” Clark said of treating the light as a four-way stop.
As the midway point of the election campaign dawns Tuesday, the television debate raised the stakes.
In the lead-up to the television appearance, the Liberals attempted to pin Dix on his party’s stance on natural-gas fracking, noting that while Dix has promised to allow fracking to continue while a review takes place, one of his candidates has instead promised a two-year moratorium.
Such a moratorium, the Liberals say, would dash the province’s hopes of the jobs and economic growth that would come with a head start in the worldwide race to develop liquefied natural gas.
The NDP, in turn, seized on a comment made by Clark last week during an all-leaders’ radio debate, when she was asked why her government cancelled funding to an arms-length body that conducted evaluations of drugs for PharmaCare.
Dix’s news conference on the Therapeutics Initiative was overshadowed by comments made by Charlie Wyse, the NDP candidate in the Cariboo-Chilcotin, who said his party wants a moratorium on fracking.
“The position of the NDP is that there will be a moratorium put on fracking for the next two years while the science will be brought together to find out the effect, if anything, that fracking has on the water table,” Wyse said during an all-candidates’ meeting Friday. A recording of his comments was provided by the Liberals.
Dix said simply Wyse misspoke.
“We don’t support a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. We do support a review,” Dix said.
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