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Housing, Jobs, Political Donations Spark BC Election Debate Battles

Weaver takes larger role as leaders face off for second time.

Jeremy Nuttall 27 Apr 2017TheTyee.ca

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa, now back in B.C. covering the 2017 election.

This report is part of The Tyee’s reader-funded B.C. 2017 election coverage. To learn more about becoming a Tyee Builder, go here.

NDP leader John Horgan may have been the angry man in the first leaders’ debate last week, but the Green’s Andrew Weaver came out swinging in the main event Wednesday, taking shots at Horgan and BC Liberal leader Christy Clark.

In the first debate Weaver often looked on as Clark and Horgan sparred, and afterwards told reporters he preferred to stay out of petty squabbles.

But by the midpoint of Wednesday’s debate all three candidates were going after each other, with Weaver at the centre of some of the more heated exchanges, even taunting Horgan by asking if he was going to lose his temper.

One of the first topics raised was housing costs, a major issue in Metro Vancouver.

Horgan attacked Clark, accusing her of “negligence” and stalling on the housing issue. He said the B.C. government delayed taking action until last summer because wealthy developers who donate to the Liberals were becoming rich as house prices soared.

“While you waited the average housing price in Vancouver went up $600,000,” Horgan said. “Why did you wait so long, was it because rich developers were making a bundle?”

Clark said the Liberals were waiting and examining the situation to ensure any action wouldn’t cause a sharp decline in prices that would reduce the equity of current homeowners.

She said the measures taken would make housing affordable for younger British Columbians.

“Why should anyone believe you?” Horgan asked. “Just before an election you’re always quick with a smile and a promise but you don’t deliver; it’s the same thing when it comes to housing.”

Big money a big topic

Not long after that, Horgan found himself being asked a similar same question on the NDP’s promise to ban big money in politics: Why should anyone believe you when the party still accepts large donations from unions? Weaver asked.

The NDP and the Greens have both promised to ban union and corporate donations and limit individual donations, while the Liberals have defended the current system that allows unlimited donations. On Tuesday, watchdog group Integrity BC released a book detailing how the top 177 donors to the BC Liberals have received billions in government contracts and other perks.

The New Democrats have hit the Liberals hard on the issue and have introduced legislation to limit donations six times, but have not been able to get it past the Liberal majority.

But the party has also taken a large donation from the United Steelworkers Union, and Weaver said that makes Horgan and the NDP hypocrites.

“Who’s calling the shots of your campaign?” Weaver asked. “Is it you or is it the United Steelworkers?”

The question led to a minutes-long battle as the two leaders spoke over each other several times. During the exchange, Horgan pledged to bring in a ban on corporate and union donations “the day after” the NDP is elected.

“The most corporate funded party in British Columbia history is going to win the next election, Andrew, because they’re taking big piles of money,” Horgan said as Weaver began to talk over him. “The only way we stop that is to take the big money out of politics and that’s what we intend to do.”

Weaver pounced on Horgan’s suggestion that the Liberals would win the election. “I can’t believe you just said that, John,” he said. After the debate Horgan told media he misspoke.

Weaver also challenged Clark’s promises on the economy and jobs. He referred to the Liberals jobs plan as “desperate” and said the Clark has promised a “unicorn in each and every one of our backyards” from LNG.

“You have no credibility on this file,” Weaver said, turning to LNG projects. “You either intentionally misled or simply misunderstood supply and demand economics.”

Speaking to media after the debate Weaver called the clashes “an opportunity” and said it was an inspiring affair.

He said he challenged both leaders during the debate, stopping short of saying his more aggressive tone was part of any strategy.

“It was exciting, it was vibrant,” he said. “I think the debate speaks for itself.”  [Tyee]

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