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Ladner and Robertson ducked questions in Courier debate

Non-Partisan Association mayoral candidate Peter Ladner continued running on the NPA’s council record under Sam Sullivan, while Vision Vancouver contender Gregor Robertson countered with an increasingly vague vision for change in the second public debate between Vancouver’s two leading mayoral candidates.

Good questions were asked. Panelists Irwin Loy (of 24 hours), Mark Hasiuk and Mike Howell (both of the Vancouver Courier) pressed the candidates on a wide range of civic issues ranging from taxes to homelessness, casinos to parking meters.

Few were answered. Again and again, Ladner and Robertson filled time by delivering now-familiar talking points, then ducked the question.

In response to a question about car-free zones, for example, Robertson spoke glowingly about Vancouver’s popular car-free days, and Ladner waxed about how nice the city will be in February of 2010, when the Olympics transform much of downtown Vancouver into a defacto car-free zone. But neither candidate answered Hasiuk’s question.

Similarly, in response to a question from Howell about whether they would support a proposal to open a crack-smoking room within Insite, both tall candidates dodged and weaved so violently that their lanky limbs briefly mimicked that funky-chicken-strut crackheads perform on Hastings Street.

As a result of such persistent obfuscation, the evening’s two most memorable exchanges had relatively little to do with the issues facing Vancouver voters.

The first came in response to a softball question from the soft-spoken Loy: What will you do in your first month in office?

“I think the first week in office, I’m going to be taking a holiday, actually, and getting over the strain of the election campaign,” Ladner replied.

“I don’t have anything that’s burning in my mind that we’re absolutely going to jump in there and change the minute I become the mayor,” he continued.

Ladner repeated his stump speech goals, then concluded, “I just can’t say specific things that are going to be abruptly changed.”

Robertson looked like he’d just been handed his favorite smoothie.

“On day one, we need to pull people together right away to start crafting our plan to end homelessness in Vancouver by 2015,” Robertson said.

“The second thing,” he added, “…the signal that needs to be sent in that first week is, ‘City Hall is back open to the people.’ I’m going to be calling on all the people of Vancouver to re-engage and to make know to the mayor and council what they want to do for Vancouver, what they want to step up and take on, where they want to contribute to our city.”

Later in the evening, however, when asked specifically what he would do to end homelessness, Robertson offered few specifics beyond his intention to appoint a panel and craft a plan. He did speak generally to a need to shelter the homeless this winter.

“We can’t shelter our way out of homelessness,” Ladner shot back. The NPA candidate praised the city’s existing homelessness action plan, and boasted that the NPA-led council has initiated 3,800 units of social housing in the past three years. (The Tyee has asked the Ladner campaign to account for that claim; Ladner has not yet responded.)

The evening’s second memorable exchange came in response to a question about Robertson’s previous proposal to enact a speculator’s tax on empty housing.

Robertson said that during his primary campaign, he had been “speculating about ideas that have been tried in other cities” such as Washington D.C. and Paris.

Howell pressed Robertson: So it was more a suggestion than a policy proposal?

“That’s right,” Robertson replied. “It was an idea I brought forward as one that needs to be looked at.”

Ladner stood motionless during the exchange, like a cat waiting to pounce.

“If you want a mayor who’s going to be learning on the job, you have your option,” Ladner quipped.

Ladner said such a tax would be “impossible to implement” and charged, “I think this is an example of inexperience, of someone who… does not know how the city works.”

There was one question both candidates answered clearly. Hasiuk asked: “Will you keep your promises, made earlier this year, to publically disclose all campaign finance details before voters go to the polls in November. Those details would include the names of all donors and the amount of money each donor gave to your campaign?”

“Yes,” replied Ladner. He then smiled silently from behind the podium.

After a long moment, the moderator turned to Robertson, who also agreed to fully disclose his donations. But neither candidate would commit to when or how they will disclose.

Last night’s debate was sponsored by the Vancouver Courier, the Vancouver Fair Tax Coalition and the Kitsilano Chamber of Commerce. About 150 people attended the event inside Science World’s eeerie egg-like Imax theatre. It was the second of nearly a dozen mayoral debates scheduled.

Monte Paulsen is editor of The Hook.

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