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BC Liberal leadership hopefuls spar over memberships, affordability in final debate

Click to play video: '2022 BC Liberal leadership debate' 2022 BC Liberal leadership debate
Global News presents the Jan. 18, 2022 BC Liberal Leadership debate moderated by legislative reporter Richard Zussman. – Jan 19, 2022

The seven candidates vying to be the next leader of the BC Liberal Party spent 90 minutes Tuesday night sparring over health care, affordability, and the party’s own future.

Former senior cabinet minister Kevin Falcon, MLAs Michael Lee, Renee Merrifield, and Ellis Ross, as well as entrepreneur Gavin Dew, BC Chamber of Commerce CEO Val Litwin and developer Stan Sipos went back and forth in a debate moderated by Global News to try to differentiate themselves before party members start voting on Feb. 3.

The party is attempting to rebuild after a disastrous 2020 election result in which it dropped from 43 seats in the 2017 election to 28 seats.

The Liberals count about 43,000 members, but it’s still unclear how many of those will be eligible to vote.

The party is reviewing calls from a majority of the leadership candidates to audit its members after questions were raised about some forms for newcomers weren’t filled out properly.

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Lee used his one chance to ask another candidate a question to put the issue to Falcon, the only of the seven who did not ask the party for the audit.

“Instead of standing with all the candidates here on this debate stage to ensure that members can have the confidence, the process, to elect the next leader of our party,” Lee said, “you accuse the party of racism and you use racialized members of our party as a shield, which is just another example of the old style of politics that you have.”

Falcon responded by saying there was no proof of fraud in the leadership race.

“There was some administrative errors and mistakes made, which, by the way, is not uncommon for new people getting involved in the party,” he said.

“Just because people have trouble filling out some forms does not mean they should be dismissed as members of this party.”

Click to play video: 'Focus BC: Hospitals under pressure, BC Liberals challenge to rebuild' Focus BC: Hospitals under pressure, BC Liberals challenge to rebuild
Focus BC: Hospitals under pressure, BC Liberals challenge to rebuild – Jan 14, 2022

All candidates were asked about the future of health care in B.C., and their answers centred on investing in more nurses and doctors to rebuild the system.

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Ross suggested the province needs to make a minister responsible for recruitment, not just here in B.C., but in Canada and internationally.

Falcon introduced the idea for-profit care into the debate, saying the NDP loves to use it to attack the Liberals and “create some fear that we’re all trying to get a U.S.-style health-care system.

Read more: ‘Concerns’ about memberships prompt review ahead of BC Liberal leadership vote

“Let me tell you, a private clinic started under the NDP in the 1990s,” he said.

“They’ve always played a role in our system. That’s where our patients and union individuals go to get get looked after. My focus is on what’s in the best interests of patients. And I am going to focus our system to ensure that we focus on outcomes for patients.”

 

Click to play video: 'Kevin Falcon launches bid for BC Liberal leadership' Kevin Falcon launches bid for BC Liberal leadership
Kevin Falcon launches bid for BC Liberal leadership – May 17, 2021

 

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The candidates were also asked to address housing affordability, with Litwin saying it “keeps him up at night.

“We’re going to resource municipalities to get through those zoning backlogs and permitting backlogs,” he said.

“Let’s get those houses built. We’re going to tie infrastructure investments to those housing requirements so we can get the volume up and in the pipeline. We’re going to get density zoning right on transit corridors so we can actually have people living along our major transit routes.”

The party will announce a new leader on Feb. 5.

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