VANCOUVER, B.C. – It wasn’t exactly a knock-em-down, drag-em-out fight.
In a provincial election campaign where the Opposition posted its platform before the campaign began and the government Liberals are seeking their third term in office, the first head-to-head debate of the B.C. election campaign held few surprises from the two main political parties.
But the presence of B.C. Green Leader Jane Sterk added some spice to a political recipe that’s become familiar to British Columbians over the past four years, with the two other leaders lobbing familiar refrains back and forth on the economy, the environment and social programs.
Seated between Liberal Leader Gordon Campbell and New Democrat Leader Carole James in a small studio at CKNW Radio, Sterk said its time for a change in B.C. politics.
“Today you’ll hear from the Liberals and the NDP the tired messages that pass for debate in Victoria. Without the B.C. Green party in this election, the main message of the campaign would be: He’s arrogant and she’s incompetent,” Sterk told listeners at the outset of the hour-and-a-half debate and call-in show.
“This polarization is unhealthy and non-productive at a time when more than ever we need bold solutions to solve the economic, social and environment problems we face.”
Sterk clearly set her sights on James and her NDP, calling them “completely irresponsible” for opposing the Liberal’s controversial carbon tax on fossil fuels.
James has been criticized by some traditional supporters for promising to axe the gas tax, and faces a fight to avoid splitting the environmental vote with the Greens and leaving the Liberals to come up the middle to win in some ridings. The Greens are running a full-slate of candidates for the May 12 vote.
Sterk blasted Campbell for touting the energy sector while claiming to be on the environmental cutting edge, and James was eager to agree.
“It’s an example of the hypocrisy of Gordon Campbell’s green plan,” the New Democrat leader said.
James said she’s heard from forestry workers who are angry that their industry has been ignored, and seniors who feel abandoned. James said students are struggling with rising tuition and working for a low minimum wage.
And she attacked Campbell for failures on affordable housing and for “giving away water rights to private companies” with private power projects.
For his part, Campbell appealed to voters to stick with his Liberals, who he said have overseen eight years of building the B.C. economy to one of the best on the continent.
He credited his Liberals for bringing B.C. from a have-not province to the best economy in North America, and said the current recession is a time for stability.
Many of the callers into the show asked questions that seemed they could have been torn out of the party platforms.
“Considering the shameful poverty rates in British Columbia, I want to know if you’ll commit to make measurable poverty-reduction targets and what specifically are you going to do to meet those targets,” Suzanne asked Campbell.
Unfazed by the familiar terminology, Campbell said his Liberals have tried to increase employment, as well as increased rental assistance and reductions in medical service plan fees and expansion of Pharmacare for low-income British Columbians.
“A job is, by far, the best social program you can have, and it gives people the most confidence,” he said. “I understand the challenges people are facing today and I think we all have to be alive to that.”
Another caller asked James “which innovative infrastructure projects are you going to cut” to meet a New Democrat promise of $250 million to end homeless.
“Two hundred and fifty million dollars in a housing trust fund right now in the government’s budget,” James responded.
“Those are dollars that we believe shouldn’t sit in a housing trust fund. They should actually go out the door and start building affordable housing.”
Campbell will be seeking his third term when British Columbians go to the polls May 12 to elect 85 MLAs.
At dissolution there were 45 Liberals and 34 New Democrats in the B.C. legislature.