BC Liberal candidates debate, affirm support for HST
They may be in the middle of the race for the top political job in British Columbia, but the six candidates for the Liberal leadership have their sights set on the New Democrats and the next provincial election.
On Tuesday, all six appeared together for the first time in a panel discussion before a sold out B.C. Chamber of Commerce audience of about 500.
George Abbott and Christy Clark disagreed over a new provincial holiday proposed by Clark, and whether to send a vote on the harmonized sales tax to the legislature or to referendum.
But there were few other disagreements, and no debate between the panel members.
Every candidate said they would vote yes to the controversial harmonized sales tax in the upcoming referendum.
When questioned about how to maintain party solidarity after the leadership campaign, Abbott said while the race for the premier's spot is eventful, the election campaign in 2013 is more important.
He reminded the business leaders of what has happened over the last four decades when the right-wing coalition fails to stick together.
"When it breaks down, we know how the movie ends," Abbott said.
"It is a horror movie, it is a disaster movie," he said to laughter and applause. "And again not to give away too much of the circumstance, but it stars someone with the initials NDP."
Clark guaranteed that all six candidates would be working together to fight the NDP in the next election, no matter who leads the party.
But she said the government didn't listen to B.C. residents about the harmonized sales tax, and voters may have lost trust with the party.
"I think we have an obligation to start listening to people again if we want to win the next election."
Premier Gordon Campbell offered his resignation in November in the wake of the anger over implementation of the 12 per cent tax.
The party has come a long way in the past few months since the resignation, Mike de Jong told the crowd.
"If we tried to have this meeting two months ago, probably there would been protesters out front, we would have been dodging flying buns up here," he told business leaders at the breakfast meeting.
"Yet something remarkable has happened. People are beginning to remind themselves what the government has done over the better part of a decade."
He said the next leader to be chosen must be the chief salesperson for the province.
All the candidates are great, which is in stark contrast to those running for the job of leading the New Democrats, said Kevin Falcon. But only one will be leader, and Falcon said that will take someone looking to the future.
"We need to be optimistic about the future. I'm not going to spend a lot of time looking in the rear-view mirror and flogging ourselves for what we could have done better," Falcon told the crowd.
Candidates fielded questions on issues such as transportation, the HST, provincial energy policies and the touchy topic of municipal taxation on businesses.
Candidates were well prepared for the tax question -- Clark and Moira Stilwell put out news releases on the issue right away.
Major industries in several B.C. communities have protested against high industrial tax rates by refusing to pay their taxes. The moderator asking the candidates the question said businesses believe local governments are a direct threat to economic prosperity.
Candidate Ed Mayne, the former mayor of Parksville, said the province needs a municipal appeal board.
He said that would allow businesses to appeal municipal tax decisions without having to go through the expense of taking the issue to court.
"Every province and territory in this country has a municipal appeal board except British Columbia."