Touchy moments a feature in first B.C. election debate
Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, April 20, 2017 8:19AM PDT
Last Updated Friday, April 21, 2017 11:02AM PDT
VANCOUVER -- It wasn't long before Liberal Leader Christy Clark put her hand on the arm of her main rival, John Horgan, and told him to calm down during Thursday's first debate of the B.C. election campaign.
The New Democrat leader's icy response: "Don't touch me again, please."
- Scroll down or click here for highlights from Day 10 on the campaign trail
The exchange captured the sometimes chippy tone of the 90-minute live debate as Horgan interrupted and spoke over Clark every time she picked apart the NDP platform. It was a departure from the positive, take-the-high-road approach adopted by Horgan's predecessor in the last election, which the New Democrats lost despite a large lead in the polls at the campaign's outset.
A more restrained and smiling Clark stuck to a similar refrain by emphasizing her party's jobs-first platform and warning that the health of the provincial economy would be jeopardized under the leadership of another party.
"In these last four years British Columbia's really gone on a roll," Clark told listeners of News 1130 in Vancouver, which also livestreamed the debate online and broadcast it on City television. "We're just getting started and we don't want to end that."
Horgan accused the Liberal leader of governing in the interest of corporations, high earners and those "in the first-class lounge." He also said she is falsely claiming the NDP hasn't accounted for how it will pay for its platform promises.
"Whenever she gets in the corner she makes stuff up. This is why British Columbians have no confidence in the B.C. Liberals," Horgan said.
"Mr. Horgan, we didn't make up five balanced budgets," Clark replied.
Horgan said the NDP platform is based on the financial figures in the government's spring budget.
The Liberals have said the New Democrats' plan is too costly. The NDP is promising to bring in $10-a-day child care and eliminate tolls on two busy bridges in Metro Vancouver, but the party says a new tax on housing speculators and raising taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations will help balance the budget.
Clark chided the NDP's intention to roll out its affordable child-care program over 10 years.
"You're not going to deliver it until most kids have their driver's licences," she said.
Andrew Weaver of the B.C. Green party resorted to holding up his hand to get the attention of the moderator, and when he did it was mostly to criticize Clark's record.
"We've had 16 years of mean-spirited policies that have put corporate donors and those who have ahead of those who do not have," Weaver said when asked about housing costs.
Weaver condemned the Liberals for pushing forward with Site C, a hydroelectric megaproject in northeast B.C., as well as the government's promise of revenue from the liquefied natural gas industry, which has yet to develop.
"Trying to squeeze water from a stone doesn't work, even if you squeeze it harder. And that is the Liberal approach," he said.
The next debate in the May 9 election is Wednesday night.
Weaver described the confrontations in Thursday's debate between Clark and Horgan as petty, saying afterwards the people of British Columbia deserve better.
Clark accused her opponents of supporting policies that would bring B.C. back the economic stagnation of the 1990s, when the New Democrats were in power.
Asked about Clark touching his arm after the debate, Horgan suggested there is a double-standard.
"What would the response have been if I had laid my hand on the premier?" Horgan responded. "That's all I've got to say about that."
Clark later said she didn't mean to offend Horgan, describing him as a colleague.
"I'm a little bit surprised he took it that way," Clark said. "It certainly wasn't how it was intended."
Key moments from Day 10 on the campaign trail
Liberal Leader Christy Clark continued her attack on the NDP's platform, accusing John Horgan of running on a plan that B.C. can't afford.
Horgan says his promises are affordable and the costs associated with them and the impact on the province's finances are based on figures in the Liberal's spring budget.
He said the party's promise of $10-a-day child care, more affordable housing and removing tolls on two major bridges in the Vancouver area would be paid for by increasing the corporate tax rate by one percentage point and cancelling a tax cut for the highest income earners.
Clark says the province is on track to become debt-free down the road after falling short of that promise from the 2013 election campaign.
"We want to make sure we aren't throwing the furniture in the fire to pay for the operating expenses," she said.
Clark said the province has the lowest unemployment rate in the country and 220,000 positions have been created through the Liberal government's jobs plan.
Green Leader Andrew Weaver said he wants to retool the economy to create jobs in emerging sectors, rather than "chase the economy of yesteryear."
Weaver said the government has been effective in bringing in harm-protection measures, but he wants to see more money spent on public education and prevention, starting with reversing cuts for counsellors and therapists in schools.
He also wants more money spent on mental-health and addiction programs.
The problem needs to be treated as a health crisis, not a criminal justice one, Weaver said.
Clark agreed that the crisis cannot be treated just as a law-enforcement issue.
She said the government has spent about $100 million to try to curb overdoses, but the number of deaths appears to have stabilized at about 100 a month, which is too high.
"Everyone who dies is someone who is loved and we need to remember that. Every single one of those people deserves our help."
Horgan said more safe-injection sites are needed, as well as treatment facilities to help people with mental health and addiction problems.
"If it's a crisis, if there is a fire burning in the Interior, we don't wait to see if we've got the budget for it," he said. "We have a fire in our major cities and right around British Columbia."
The NDP would also appoint a minister of mental health and addictions to advocate for change at the cabinet table, Horgan said.
There is an area of agreement between Clark and Horgan on the legal age for the sale of marijuana.
The federal government has introduced legislation that would legalize pot on July 1, 2018, giving provinces time to come up with sales and distribution systems and to decide whether to raise the age limit from 18.
Clark says she would lift the limit to "at least" 19, the same age when it's legal to purchase alcohol in B.C.
Horgan says he would consult on how best to roll out the new industry, but it's his opinion that 19 is the right age to bring it into line with the minimum age for alcohol sales.
Weaver says he's troubled by the federal government's plan because it favours large licensed producers and B.C. needs to foster a strong "craft cannabis" sector.