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Premier missing debate, BC Liberals blaming late invitation

All of the parties were given the same notice of an April 2 all-candidates meeting in Vancouver-Point Grey, but only BC Liberal candidate and premier Christy Clark couldn't come, says one of the organizers.

But Liberal spokesperson Sam Oliphant said the first the party heard of the debate was in an email sent to Clark's MLA office just two days ahead, on Easter Sunday.

"Everyone was given equal notice," said Tanner Bokor, the vice-president external relations for the Alma Mater Society at the University of British Columbia. "Everyone was well aware the event was going on."

Representatives of the major parties were notified about three weeks ago, and an earlier email was sent on March 23, Bokor said. He allowed that the Liberals may not have received that message. "It may just be the original email did not get through or got stuck in someone's spam filter. That's happened before."

The NDP's David Eby, the Green Party's Francoise Raunet, the Conservative's Duane Nickull, the Work Less Party's Hollis Linschoten and Independent William Gibbens have all confirmed, Bokor said. "It's a real shame that unfortunately the premier won't be able to be with us."

Oliphant said in an email that he understood the organizers had been talking with the president of the BC Young Liberals at UBC who told them to make their request directly to the party.

"The first invitation that we received (again, that went to the Premier's MLA office, not the party) that we can find with details including date and time was the email I sent you," he said. That email is dated March 31 and makes no mention of any earlier message.

Oliphant didn't respond by publication time to a follow-up email asking what Clark will be doing during the debate.

In Clark's place the Liberals offered to send Andrew Wilkinson, who is running in Vancouver-Quilchena, but Bokor said they turned him down as they wanted to keep it to candidates from Vancouver-Point Grey.

Bokor said the AMS is planning another all-candidates meeting before the election and hopes Clark will be there for that one. He apologized for "any breakdown in communication."

During the 2011 by-election campaign that she narrowly won, Clark received criticism for failing to participate in all-candidates debates, including one on CKNW radio where she previously worked.

Update: Oliphant said in a later email that Clark was busy with private meetings.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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