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Debate: BC in recession, but Campbell claims Libs best on economy

The premier who led British Columbia into its first recession since 1982 stressed several times in tonight's leader's debate that the May 12 provincial election is about leadership and the economy.

“Who can lead us through these challenging times so we can come out stronger?” asked B.C. Liberal Party leader Gordon Campbell in the debate with the New Democratic Party's Carole James and the Green Party's Jane Sterk. “I think this is a very critical time in our economy. We need people with real business experience.”

Later he directly attacked NDP leader Carole James' background: “She doesn't have much business experience. In fact she doesn't have any.”

It is not, however, clear Campbell should have bragging rights on his ability to manage the provincial economy.

Former Social Credit adviser Will McMartin took a close look in an April Tyee piece at the provincial economy under Campbell's government and compared it to the record under the NDP government in the 1990s and the SoCreds in the 1980s. He concluded GDP growth under the Liberals has averaged 2.8 percent a year under the Liberals. That was higher than the average under the SoCreds, but lower than the 3 percent average annual growth under the NDP.

And last week, the Tyee reported, Statistics Canada released figures that showed B.C.'s economy was one of the weaker ones in the country in 2008, and had negative growth, otherwise known as a recession, for the first time since 1982.

The NDP's James didn't challenge Campbell's claim, but did point out that the Liberals have been spectators as the forestry industry has crashed and drew attention to how people stuck in low wage jobs have had no help from Campbell. “Smart economies know to invest in people,” she said, adding that the NDP would do that. “I'm going to make sure families come first.”

The Green Party's Jane Sterk argued that the downturn is an opportunity to reinvent the provincial economy, creating new green jobs and to strengthen regional economies.

The declining economy puts the credibility of Campbell's February budget in doubt, as well as the NDP's platform projections that were based on that budget, but remarkably the hour-long debate ended with none of the leaders having to explain in any detail what they would do about it.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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