ABOVE: Leaders spar in the campaign’s major broadcast debate
It was a big night for B.C. politics, with the leaders of the three major parties getting what may be their real first introduction to the electorate as they faced off in the broadcast leaders’ debate.
The trio spent 90 minutes sparring, with host Jennifer Burke as moderator.
While the format prevented more than two leaders from debating at any time, there were a number of heated exchanges and plenty of crosstalk.
NDP Leader John Horgan was on a mission to appear steady amid a campaign by his opponents to paint him as angry, while selling himself as the people’s leader amid an affordability crisis.
Green Leader Andrew Weaver, looking to make an impression with an electorate that may not know him, came out swinging and feisty, attacking both rivals with gusto.
And BC Liberal Leader Christy Clark sought to frame herself as the steady hand on the tiller, a job creator that can be trusted in times of international economic turmoil.
And while there were plenty of punches, no one landed a knockout blow.
Here’s a look at where the leaders stood on some of the key issues of the campaign.
Horgan was quick to attack on this topic, claiming the Liberals had overseen a $600,000 spike in Metro Vancouver home prices.
“Your negligence over the past two years has led to a market that’s unattainable for the families that you profess to represent.”
When asked how the renter rebate will help affordability, Horgan said the BC NDP has been raising the alarm for three years, saying the Liberals have done nothing.
He also said renters should also get a break, not only homeowners, who currently benefit from a provincial grant program.
“If you can’t find a place to buy, you should be able to find a place to rent,” said Horgan.
Clark ridiculed the plan, calling it $1-a-day for renters.
Clark was asked why her government did not intervene sooner to control the housing crisis, but she said they didn’t want to act too quickly, saying homeowners have equity to think about.
She said housing policies such as the 15 per cent foreign buyer’s tax, taxes on homes worth over $2-million, and the down payment loan for new homeowners have helped.
Weaver was then asked about the possibility of equity loss for homeowners with his party’s platform.
But he attacked the Liberals by saying their foreign buyers’ tax won’t cut back on speculation, adding Clark has been negligent.
“We’re in the crisis we’re in because your plan hasn’t worked,” Weaver told Clark.
On the topic of economy, Horgan was asked whether his party would impose any new taxes if elected, to which he said his party will roll back Liberal tax cuts but would increase corporate taxes by one per cent.
In what would become a recurring theme throughout the night, Horgan also dug at the BC Liberals, claiming they are working for big donors instead of the public.
Clark fired back saying the NDP is compromised on the softwood lumber industry because of the support his party has received from the Steelworkers Union, which has been linked recently with U.S. President Donald Trump.
She noted the NDP failed to bring up softwood lumber prior to the taxes being put in place earlier this week.
“I did ask you a question, which is why have you never raised it in the legislature? You can only ask a question if I’m there? Mr. Horgan, you can ask a question any day you’re there.”
Meanwhile, Weaver brought up LNG, telling Clark she either misread the market or did not understand the economy, and that the industry had failed to produce the jobs she promised.
But Clark said people don’t want them to wave the white flag. She said the market will pick up.
John Horgan’s temperament once again became a topic of debate, with Weaver needling the NDP leader during one feisty exchange, asking “Are you going to lose your temper on me now Mr. Horgan? Because you did last week.”
That was followed by a question from the moderator asking him if he had an anger management issue.
Horgan replied he was just passionate and credited his Irish heritance for that.
He added that his anger came from seeing kids in care die and generations of student lose out on education thanks to the BC Liberals’ battle with teachers.
Clark was then quizzed why British Columbians should trust her amid the RCMP investigation into improper donations, her salary top-up, and false claims she’d made that the NDP had hacked the BC Liberal website.
Clark’s reply: “Jobs.”
Clark said B.C. number one in job creation in Canada. Adding that a leader should be tough but calm, someone who “doesn’t lose their temper.”
Clark then asked Weaver why he was planning on doubling the carbon tax, putting jobs at risk.
But Weaver said carbon tax works, pointing out B.C.’s economy led Canada after its implementation, adding Clark had no credibility on the file.
Weaver was also asked what he would say to people who think a Green vote is a wasted vote. He said people need something to vote for, not against.
“Better than really bad is still just bad,” said Weaver on voting NDP to stop the Liberals.
“You don’t offer people ideas. You don’t offer people visions. You pull up rhetoric. You throw it out of context.”
“You have a plan, to develop a plan, to come up with a plan,” fired Weaver at Horgan during one heated exchange in which he accused the NDP leader of taking three different positions on how he’d pay for MSP elimination.
“Nobody knows what you stand for.”
But Horgan said he’s been “crystal clear” on his MSP replacement plan, saying he will put an independent panel together, as stated in the NDP platform.
Clark said MSP Premiums have returned to 1993 levels under her government and attacked Horgan by saying the NDP has $6-billion plan but has not made clear where the money is coming from.
Horgan fired back that premiums, today, remain the highest they’ve ever been.
He also challenged Clark’s assertion the NDP plan would leave a debt crater,
suggesting the economists who reviewed the plan cannot be independent if they were hired by the Liberals.
The brewing trade war with the U.S. was a theme that came up over and over throughout the evening, and was the subject of one of Horgan and Clark’s first jousting matches of the evening – with Clark accusing Horgan of having never raised the issue in the Legislature, and Horgan claiming Clark had been absent on the file for two and a half years.
Throughout the debate, Clark seized on the softwood lumber issue, using it to play to her core message of job creation and economic stability, painting herself as the level head that can pull B.C. through.
Clark said the possibility of a 20 per cent tariff will be tough, but added she will be resilient. She said the NPD has turtled the issue by taking orders from U.S. Steelworkers.
Weaver attacked Clark by saying the Liberal government hasn’t gone to Ottawa to get anything started, adding her approach has been to support big timber who are exporting raw logs to their own mills in the U.S.
On how they’d handle the opiate crisis, Green Leader Andrew Weaver says he’d establish a ministry of mental health and addictions and would support a three-pillared approach focusing on prevention, harm reduction, and recovery.
Horgan said the NDP will also have a minister of mental health and addictions, a “champion who will get up every day” to fight for it.
He added the BC Liberals haven’t touched $10-million Ottawa has given the province to fight addiction.
Clark said that as a mother she feels strongly about the issue. Says no one should be using drugs but adds they need help.
Horgan says the BC Liberals built a $4.5-billion bridge but expect one community to pay for it, says Kelowna not tolled on their bridge.
Meanwhile, Clark said her plan is affordable, saying the NDP’s plan is to “loot children’s inheritance” from the B.C. prosperity fund.
Weaver said tolls are necessary to pay for infrastructure and get people out of cars. He added both the NDP and Liberals are just buying votes.
AGING OUT OF CARE
Clark said her government has extended support for once they age out, adding that the “government doesn’t make the best parent.”
She said the goal is to ensure fewer kids end up in care, but support needs to be there for those who do.
But Weaver was quick to attack Clark saying she had no credibility on this issue in the wake of the MCFD’s record. He said their plan is to give guaranteed basic income to give people a fighting chance.
Horgan brought up the deaths of Alex Gervais and Carly Fraser, who took their own lives when aging out of care.
He says B.C.’s Children’s Watchdog has made dozens of recommendations, which he says have all been ignored by the Liberals. He said the NDP would follow through with them.
“Young people are not getting the supports they need. When the state is responsible, when the state is the parent, we have a fundamental obligation, all of us, to make sure those children are getting the best care possible and bridged into their adulthood if required.”
This topic drew fireworks throughout the evening.
Weaver took the initiative claiming his was the only party with clean hands on the issue. He criticized the NDP for being against the BC Liberals on the issue of donations, yet while taking donations himself.
“Do as I say, not as I do” he quipped at Horgan.
Several times throughout the debate Horgan responded by saying his party had tabled six bills to end corporate and union donations. He criticized Clark for meeting with donors privately.
Meanwhile, Clark went on offense on the issue, accusing the NDP of taking the biggest political donation in history from the Steelworkers Union, and rattling off various union backers.
“The system needs to change,” said Clark, adding that she will add a panel to look at donations. That panel would make non-binding recommendations.
With files from Simon Little and Estefania Duran