BC Liberal leadership race: candidates spar during first debate

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The candidates running to be the leader of the centre-right BC Liberal party, squared off for the first time in a debate today. Paul Johnson has more – Oct 15, 2017

Six candidates vying for the BC Liberal Party leadership battled it out on a stage for the first time this Sunday.

All candidates, except Terrace business woman Lucy Sager, were present at the Surrey debate.

Candidates took jabs at each other, keeping their eyes on the prize.

READ MORE: Do any candidates in the BC Liberal party leadership race stand out?

Former finance minister Mike de Jong was quick to defend his former role, adding his ministry was to thank for B.C.’s strong economic standing.

“I have heard the criticism, ‘that tightwad de Jong.’ I may be the only finance minister in living history, now former finance minister, whose criticism is rooted in the proposition that I was too careful with the taxpayers’ dollars.”

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Meanwhile, former advanced education minister Andrew Wilkinson focused on affordability, saying it’s one of the main issues for voters across B.C.

“We are going to catch that problem and come up with the hard answers. It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be cheap but we have to take that on.”

READ MORE: BC Liberal leadership race: candidates, dates and spending details

Vancouver-Langara MLA Michael Lee is one of seven candidates looking to replace the former premier. When asked about a stance he doesn’t share with the party, he said he doesn’t think Uber should be allowed to operate in B.C. right now.

“We need to develop a roadmap to get this improved service for consumers that maintains passenger safety, treats everyone fairly and creates a level-playing field for competition,” said Lee.

“As I said before, we need to recognize the impact of regulatory change on taxi drivers’ families while they work to meet increased consumer demand for their services.”

Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer said that by hosting the first debate in Surrey all eyes were on Dianne Watts, adding she didn’t do well during the party forum in September.

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During the debate, the city’s former mayor said a balanced budget gives government choices, but the Liberals haven’t been smart with funding transit projects.

She noted there are only four SkyTrain stations in Surrey, with no new ones since Expo 86.

“We’ve been waiting 20 years. We have to look at a little bit in a different light because if we don’t get this right, it is going to get worse each and every year.”

She said run-off projects won’t help commuters travel around the Lower Mainland.

WATCH: Mike Bernier out of leadership race

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Mike Bernier out of leadership race – Oct 14, 2017

Meanwhile, the race for the leadership spot is a little slimmer, with the former education minister bowing out less than a month into the campaign.

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But Palmer said Mike Bernier’s exit could be the first of many.

“I think others will drop out. I don’t think there will be seven candidates when they get to voting.”

Prince George will host the next debate on Nov 4.

Members will vote in Christy Clark’s replacement on Feb. 3.

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