B.C. Election 2017: Leaders spar in first broadcast debate
NDP leader John Horgan, BC Premier Christy Clark and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver in action during the provincial party leaders' debate at City TV in Vancouver, BC., April 20, 2017. (NICK PROCAYLO/Postmedia Network)
The leaders of B.C.'s three political parties sparred for the first time in the 2017 election Thursday in a radio debate that, at times, turned testy.
B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark, B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan and B.C. Green Leader Andrew Weaver participated in a debate at News 1130 moderated by retired broadcaster Bill Good.
Clark and Horgan directly attacked one another after their opening statements, when the topic turned to the economy.
Horgan defended his party's platform as fully costed, amid accusations from the Liberals there's more than $6 billion in un-costed or improperly costed promises.
“We tabled a fully costed platform last week based on the numbers the ministry of finance tabled in February," said Horgan.
"That is just not true, the NDP plan is not costed," rebutted Clark. "Just 14 of the promises they laid out were costed, it’s a $6 billion hole in that."
“Yesterday your finance minster made an embarrassment of himself,” replied Horgan, referencing a press conference in which Mike de Jong was challenged for his estimates on the Liberal platform.
"Whenever she gets in a corner she makes stuff up, Bill."
"You've got to use some real facts," Horgan said as he and Clark talked over each other. "Where is Sean Spicer?" he added, referencing the U.S. press secretary some accuse of making up facts during his public briefings.
Clark said B.C.'s economy is doing better than anywhere else in Canada, and that the NDP would take it back to when they were in government in the 1990s. "It's the same old playbook from the 1990s," she said.
Clark promoted her government's policies to help first-time homebuyers secure government-backed loans with no interest. Horgan called that disrespectful to renters, who can never afford to buy, accusing Clark of viewing the province from "the first class lounge" and her luxury jets.
Weaver also attacked the Liberals for "16 years of mean-spirited policies" and promises in the 2013 election that failed to materialize on liquified natural gas.
"Four years ago we were being told that we were going to see 100,000 jobs, a $100 billion increase in the prosperity fund, a $1 trillion increase in GD, debt-free B.C.... unicorns in each and every one of our backyards. And here we are years later and what has transpired? Nothing. This election is really about trust," he said.
“This election British Columbians have an option and that option is the B.C. Green Party."
When the topic turned to the overdose crisis, the three leaders outlined potential improvements to overdoses services. Clark tried to say the issue transcends politics. "You are all politics all the time," said Horgan, who complained to moderator Good about not getting equal time. "You don't know anything but politics."
The leaders also debated tolls on Metro Vancouver bridges. The NDP have proposed to eliminate bridge tolls, where Clark has promised a $500 annual cap for motorists. Clark said she's proposing a cap because the economy can afford it. Horgan said tolls are unfair to motorists south of the Fraser River. Weaver was not asked to speak on tolls.
Clark and Horgan sparred on tolls before Horgan complained about his speaking time again. Clark told Horgan to "calm down" and Horgan asked her not to touch his arm.
Clark was pressed to answer why she forced the Metro region to undergo a transit referendum after the 2013 election but charged forward with the George Massey Bridge replacement project without such a referendum. She argued it was because the bridge will be a provincial asset, not owned by TransLink, and spans communities. Horgan said that was outrageous, and that the government should follow the lead of the regional mayors' transportation plan.
Weaver said Clark's government has "abdicated" its responsibility for transit in the Metro region.
Weaver said a road pricing scheme for the Lower Mainland would be fair and systems are already used in other parts of the world. "It's good public policy and doesn't burden future generations of the promises of today."
On the Site C dam project, Clark defended pushing forward with the $8 billion project to create jobs and meet electricity needs for 40 years. Horgan repeated his promise to put the project under a review by the B.C. Utilities Commission. Weaver said it's a too expensive means of producing power.
On the federal government's pending legalization of marijuana, Weaver said he'd like to encourage a craft pot industry that thrives like craft beer. "This is like saying do you want Labatt Blue or Molson Canadian or would you rather have your local craft beer?" he said.
Clark said her top priority is to make sure children can't access marijuana. "That’s the number one priority for me, making sure we limit it once government has given it its seal of approval," said Clark. "We need to have a system that makes sure marijuana is not available to young people."
Ottawa has suggested an age of 18 for purchase but it is up to the provinces. “I think in British Columbia you can’t get liquor until you are 19, so for heaven sakes lets at least put it to 19," said Clark.
Horgan said he has had MLAs research the issue and will develop a plan. Clark said the NDP want to sell marijuana in liquor stores as well, which Horgan did not deny. Weaver said the Liberals have done nothing.
On childcare, Weaver said a Green government would provide free child care for young children over a four-year mandate. Horgan said his $10-a-day child care plan will take 10 years to phase in but is what advocates are calling for in B.C. “Our plan will start by focusing on the most difficult places to find care, infants and toddlers, and build from there," he said.
Clark said the NDP will have to raise taxes. "Do you think our kids deserve child care today?" interjected Horgan.
“But you are not going to deliver it until those kids have a driver's license," shot back Clark.
Clark said B.C. will match Ottawa's new child care funding to create 8,000 new spaces.
On seniors health care, Clark said the Liberals have offered tax credits and will keep costs down within government. Horgan said nine out of 10 senior homes are failing to meet standards. "The B.C. Liberals have failed seniors and failed seniors miserably," he said.
Weaver said the Liberal policy of boutique tax credits hasn't benefited seniors, and that many elderly aren't even aware there are taxes they don't have to pay or are exempt from.
Clark and Horgan both struggled to explain how they would pay for their promised reductions or eliminations of Medical Services Plan premiums. Clark has promised a 50 per cent cut to some people in 2018, and an elimination of the tax at an undetermined date in the future when the economy could afford it. She did not say how she would pay for that.
Horgan has also promised to reduce and then eliminate MSP over his term. He also did not say how he'd pay for it, and did not repeat NDP candidate Carole James's comment Wednesday that the MSP costs would be rolled into the income tax system.
In their closing comments, Weaver said the election is a matter of trust between a Liberal party that is beholden to corporate donations, an NDP that has failed to inspire the public for 16 years and a Green party that has followed through on its promises.
Clark warned that you can't trust promises that aren't affordable. "
“People can propose all kinds of plans, but if you don’t have a plan you can afford and pay for its not a plan at all," she said.
Horgan said there is a stark difference between his party and the others. He said he plans to make life more affordable, restore eroded services and make sure the economy is working for everyone.
“I don’t believe we can afford another four years of B.C. Liberals and Christy Clark."
At post-debate media availabilities, the leaders answered questions about their performances.
Weaver said he deliberately focused his attacks on the Liberals, with fewer mentions of the NDP, because he saw Horgan under attack by Clark. "
“How do you expect someone to listen to you if all you do is hurl abuse at them?” he asked.
He also said he deliberately tried to stay out of the back and forth bickering, but thought his opponents were petty in the way they attacked one another.
“It's not my style to bicker and I find it frankly disrespectful and rude, because you aren't letting someone get their voices out," said Weaver. He also said the false comments made by Horgan and Clark about Green issues were "never-ending."
"The rhetoric, the statements, it's just the soundbites," he said. "What we were hearing was never-ending soundbites from the premier. I felt British Columbians deserve more than soundbites."
Horgan defended his repeated clashes with Clark and the tone of his interjections that spoke over top of her. It was contrary to the advice he said he'd received in advance of the debate.
“It was my sense that the premier was taking liberties with the truth, using facts that were alternative to the reality most people live with," he said.
Horgan said people wanted to see a leader who would rise up and be passionate.
“The premier kept wanting to poke and poke, she was physically pushing me what was I supposed to do?” Horgan said, referencing a point where Clark asked him to calm down and touched his arm.
“What would the response have been if I had laid my hand on the premier? That’s all I‘ve got to say about that, I’ll leave it to your speculation about how that would have gone."
At one point, Horgan turned to Clark during a debate and said he would simply continue staring at her because that's what she likes. Horgan said he did that because "“she’s photo-op premier and wants to draw attention to herself."
"I think it was good radio, and that's what they asked us to do," he said.
Clark, in her media availability, said she was surprised he felt the brief touch of his arm was an issue. "I'm a little bit surprised he took it that way," she said. "If he touched my arm and offered me a glass of water, I’d probably have said thanks I appreciate it."
"The thing is we’re colleagues in the legislature and we talk outside the legislature, sometimes people touch each other," she added later, when asked if she'd have been offended by Horgan touching her arm and telling her to calm down.
"For me, this debate was a chance for us to talk about our plans, which I certainly tried to do. I don’t think I would have been offended by that. It’s something that colleagues sometimes do I guess. I certainly didn't intend to offend him."
Clark sidestepped whether she felt whether the two male leaders were "mansplaining" issues to her, as Liberal staffers on Twitter alleged after the debate. "Mr. Horgan was the same John Horgan I've known for years," she said, simply.
Clark said she felt she adequately explained her government's MSP plan and how to pay for it over time, with an eventual phase out if the economy allows.