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Friday's leader debate had zingers, but nobody got hooked

The first of two debates for British Columbia's four main political party leaders on April 25 was a sometimes animated affair, but Liberal Premier Christy Clark failed to deliver NDP leader Adrian Dix the knockout punch she hoped for. Dix couldn't be goaded into offering an awkward soundbite that the Liberals could use immediately against him.

Green leader Jane Sterk's performance was the surprise. She maximized her time within the 90-minute program hosted on CKNW AM 980 by Bill Good, by elaborating on the Green platform and criticizing both Clark and Dix. Conservative leader John Cummins took a jab from Clark, but dished it back at her.

Here are highlights of the debate that was.


Clark's goals remain to vilify Dix by casting him as a tax-and-spend boogeyman while putting forward her key messages of balanced budget, controlled spending and debt free B.C.

The first two are suspect and the third may be decades away, if ever. Good called her out on the balanced budget claim. "You're proposing a balanced budget, but you don't have one," he said.

"The only person in B.C. who thinks the budget is balanced is Premier Clark," countered Dix. "It's wrong to take an approach to these issues that simply lays out campaign slogans, balancing the budget is hard work. You need a plan to do it, you need to move towards it, it's not trying to pretend to sell assets in an election year."

Who's greener?

Sterk attacked Dix on the NDP's recent opposition to the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

"What I'm hearing is really an election ploy," Sterk said. "To say that we're against Kinder Morgan because that's what their NDP base wants and that's what most British Columbians want... I just hear they're against increased tanker traffic in the Vancouver harbour."

Clark chimed in, attacking the NDP suggestion that Deltaport could be an alternative terminus to Kinder Morgan's proposed Burnaby terminus.

"Mr. Dix says he is position is clear, he wants to protect our coast," Clark said. "Well, what, is Delta on our coast? If they want to expand Kinder Morgan out through Delta, isn't that part of the Canadian coast? This whole position of his, that changes every day, is about as clear as mud.

"We know where Mr. Cummins stands, we know where Ms. Sterk stands, British Columbians know very clearly where I stand, but for Mr. Dix, it's a different position every day depending on what the polls and the politics tell him to do.

Replied Dix: "It's extraordinary from a government that has behaved as this government has to be talking about polls and politics; they've been running negative ads for 18 months and that's their whole campaign."

Clear as mud:

Transparency and accountability themes were raised twice by open-line callers.

Clark began one of her answers in rather opaque fashion.

"Well look, in the last two years we've been working hard to balance the budget first of all, get government spending under control, which we've done, develop an incredible LNG opportunity," she said. "All so we can grow the economy, because when we grow the economy, that is what allows us to look after people."

Good intervened to reiterate the focus of the question was transparency.

"We've put huge numbers of data sets out the door, so that people can go on the Internet any time and look at what their government's doing," she said. "We've won awards for that since I've become premier, because we've done more of it than anyone else."

Which awards? Institute of Public Administration in Canada's 2011 Public Sector Leadership Award, Esri Special Achievement Award in geographic information systems and the Stratford Institute top-ranking for eGovernment in April 2012.

Golf claps.

The authority on transparency in B.C., the Freedom of Information and Privacy Association of B.C., begs to differ.

"The Office of the Premier sets the tone for government, and now we have proof that almost half of all the requests they receive for information come back with absolutely nothing," FIPA executive director Vince Gogolek said after March's Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner report on secrecy in the Premier's office. "It's unacceptable."

Do as I say, not as I do:

When it comes to controlling spending and balancing budgets in her own office, the premier wasn't prepared for a pointed question.

Good: "The constant turmoil and turnover in your office and about 200 people in communications in government, is that necessary?"

Clark: "Well, it's sometimes sadly it's natural that it happens in government and we have rules that we live by and y'know those set out how these things are managed. But I will say this, we are going to toughen up the balanced budget law. He says look after it in your own backyard, well if we don't balance the budget, and if ministers don't balance, they're' going to get tougher penalties. Adrian Dix would throw that away, with and saying he wouldn't balance the budget."

Clark's office budget is $9.008 million. Government Communications and Public Engagement was allocated $26.155 million, plus $915,000 capital expenses.

Whip it:

B.C.'s parliamentary system is based on the principle of party discipline. Translation: follow the leader. Or else.

Good: "Would you tolerate one of your MLAs being adamantly opposed to a position that you've taken?"

Clark: "We had that happen in the last session of the legislature; one of our MLAs voted against the government on a bill or an amendment to a bill. That happens actually quite frequently. It was a bill, it was a forestry bill I think or an amendment in the forestry bill and one of our members stood up and said he didn't support it. So fair enough."

The government's Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, which included amendments to the Forest Act, was passed and received Royal Assent. Sections dealing with the proposed expansion of tree farm licences were scrapped.

"Obviously cabinet has to stand together, that's part of the parliamentary system. But MLAs are certainly allowed to voice their opinions on these things and we encourage it," Clark said.

Maybe discussion is encouraged behind closed doors, dissent is not welcomed outside. The last time a government bill was defeated in B.C. was 1953, according to Sean Holman's documentary Whipped: The Secret World of Party Discipline.

"I think it may have been the Tsawwassen treaty, where the NDP, Mr. Dix's group, kicked one of their members out," Clark said.

That was Michael Sather in 2007 when leader Carole James suspended him for his opposition to the party's stance on the pact.

Tory votes NDP:

Clark attacked Cummins for voting NDP in 2009, but Cummins was not afforded a chance to immediately respond because Clark launched into another attack on Dix.

When he later took the opportunity to address the topic, Cummins said: "There has to be honesty and integrity in government and Ms. Clark earlier suggested that somehow or another I was at fault for voting NDP in that last provincial election, what she seems to think is I should've chosen a government that was deceitful, dishonest and not telling people the truth over a friend I voted for who was a decent man (Guy Gentner in North Delta). I wasn't aware there was a Conservative on the ballot until I showed up at the voting booth."

Funding for disabled:

A caller named Lynn said she was living on $531.42 in disability benefits. "These guys have ignored it since 2005. But they made damn sure in 2007 they got their salary increase…"

Clark: "I want to speak to Lynn directly on this. We are running in this campaign four people who have spent their lives, who live in wheelchairs, who have spent their lives fighting for people with disabilities... Four people who have devoted themselves to this cause, to Lynn's cause."

She listed candidates Stephanie Cadieux, Ken Kramer, Michelle Stilwell and Sam Sullivan.

Sterk: "How does growing the economy help a woman who is living on less than $600 a month and who is disabled? How does growing the economy help Lynn?

Clark: "When we grow the economy it provides revenue to government, every penny that comes to government comes from a growing economy and private sector…"

Christy's kids fund:

The Liberal pre-election budget included one-time, $1,200 grants from the 2007-created Childrens' Education Fund to Registered Education Savings Plans' when children turn six.

Clark: "What I hear when I hear Mr. Dix talk about the pre-distribution of wealth, what I hear is he wants to take $1,200 away from every child, it has their name written on it for an RESP… You take it away before they even have a chance to earn it."

Dix: "It's so disrespectful to say these things. The premier is running an ad on Chinese radio that says I'm taking money from children and giving it to my friends, it 's completely wrong and it shouldn't happen in politics. If you have nothing to say, I think you need to be more positive than that. What I say is we have to take those resources and ensure every penny of it goes to children now."


Adrian Dix: repeated the NDP's "Change for the Better" slogan five times during his introductory statement.

Jane Sterk: wore red and black, like the CKNW colours.

Christy Clark: said her party's platform is 80 pages. The full PDF document is actually 90 pages.

John Cummins: unabashedly offered support for the Enbridge Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan pipeline proposals.


This election is searching for a meme, like "Binders Full of Women" from the U.S. 2012 presidential election. Could the B.C. 2013 meme be napkins?

Clark repeated her assertion that the NDP platform was "put together on the back of a couple of napkins." Dix, meanwhile, offered: "I don't think by May 14 there will be many napkins left in the premier's office."

Next (and last) debate:

Monday night on multiple B.C. TV channels, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Bob Mackin is part of The Tyee's B.C. election 2013 reporting team.

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