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Debate: Sterk swings, misses pay-raise softball

As the only leader in tonight's debate unburdened by incumbent MLAs, the Greens' Jane Sterk should have been able to use the B.C. legislators' lavish new compensation package against the Liberals and New Democrats. But, during tonight's debate, Sterk was not quite able to do so.

Her opportunity came when a Vernon mechanic posed this question to B.C. Liberals leader Gordon Campbell:

"Why did politicians support a two percent wage increase for the workers and when it came time for themselves they voted a large wage increase as well as a gold-plated pension?

"Kind of puts them in the same league as the executives at the big banks at the U.S. with their huge bonuses as the company is sliding in the toilet.

"Why should anybody vote for any of the political parties? I don't see any integrity from the NDP or the Liberals."

"Obviously, none of us would want to hear that," responded Campbell, his expression a reflection of that fact. Nevertheless, the Liberals leader defended the pay-and-pension increase because he believes it's important to fairly remunerate those who "put their personal lives on hold" to become elected officials.

Campbell then tried to block whatever points Carole James hoped to score from the question by noting her party "voted against it. But they all made sure that they got the benefits from it" – a reference to the fact the New Democrats have been donating their salary increases but enjoying their generous new pension plan.

But it was Sterk who really had an opportunity to score, giving the Greens a chance to distinguish themselves from the money-grubbers Liberals and New Democrats. This was her Gordon Wilson moment. But she let it pass her by.

Sterk acknowledged she shared the mechanics concerns "about the raises the MLAs gave to themselves on the excuse that that would encourage more competent people to enter the legislature."

"It isn't going to do that. It isn't doing that. The same people are running for the two parties. And they were paid that amount of money. They could have continued with the cost-of-living increases which was just as generous or more generous than most working people were given," she continued.

Sterk also said the salaries for the party's political support staff were also a concern. And she then concluded with this comment: "Personally, I think that the raises were too high and we might even have to look at moving them back."

With nothing to lose and everything to gain, the Green leader could and should have stronger finish then that. But she didn't.

Sean Holman reports for Public Eye Online.

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