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Voters had just one chance to see by-election candidates debate

For the more than 100,000 people who live in Vancouver-Fairview and Vancouver-Burrard, last night’s debate was their only chance to hear the major candidates involved in next week’s two provincial by-elections discuss the issues.

In spite of the relatively short notice, organizers estimated over 100 people attended the event which consisted of a pair of separate one-hour contests, one for each of the districts up for grabs.

Unfortunately, several of the panel questions were so vague that the candidates rarely – with the notable exception of a query about the prospects of a designated naturist park for the city – had to come out of their comfort zones.

As expected, the biggest issue all night was what Vancouver-Fairview NDP candidate Jenn McGinn called the “incredible, disgusting growth of homelessness.” More surprising was the almost total absence of the controversial carbon tax from the discussion.

The Vancouver-Fairview candidates marked out very different positions on childcare. Liberal Margaret MacDiarmid called for accelerated tax cuts, McGinn supported publicly funded universal childcare and provincial Green leader Jane Sterk argued for a guaranteed living wage so that parents could afford to stay home for the first year or two of their child’s life.

When it came time for closing remarks, Sterk asked that voters put her “on probation for six months” to see if they like having a Green MLA and promised to steer clear of partisanship and bickering.

McGinn pointed to the endorsement she received from MLA-turned-mayoral-candidate Gregor Robertson and presented people with the choice between “another silent MLA who’s going to stand up every day and tell the premier what a great job he’s doing” and an NDP representative who will “stand up for the working people and the working families of Vancouver-Fairview.”

MacDiarmid responded with: “While I’ve been called many things in my life, silent is not one them.” She pledged to draw on her experience as a physician and former president of the BC Medical Association to try to improve the province’s healthcare system before adding: “But I’m interested in the other half of the budget as well.”

The second hour brought Liberal Arthur Griffiths, NDP Spencer Herbert and Green Drina Read of Vancouver-Burrard to the stage.

Again, concrete proposals were few and far between.

On the issue of housing, Griffiths argued for an environment where people will build affordable housing again. Herbert and Read were more detail-oriented, calling for changes to the Residential Tenancy Act and re-opening Vancouver’s residential tenancy office. Herbert also called for the money in the Housing Endowment Fund to go to new building projects while Read proposed one per cent of the total government budget for low-income housing.

In their closing remarks, Griffiths told the audience he listens and cares, adding: “I’m proud of the direction that we’re going.” Herbert said he was running for renters, the homeless and the environment. Read criticized the government – “They say they’re green but they’re not really green.” – and praised the wisdom of triple bottom line accounting that allows impacts on people, nature and business to inform all decisions.

And with that, the moderator kindly asked everybody to get out so the Vancouver Public Library staff could clean the room.

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