BC Green leader Sterk impresses; BC Conservative leader Cummins does well in first leaders debate of BC Election 2013
The callers asked their questions about BC Election 2013. Bill Good, the host of CKNW’s morning talk program and newsreader for CTV, asked them as well.
And the four leaders responded, but not all equally.
This debate was a key moment for Christy Clark, the province’s embattled premier and BC Liberal leader. She needed an outright win — a decisive put down of her opponents — to build on the little bit of momentum her party has managed to dredge up across British Columbia during the front half of this campaign for re-election.
Angus Reid reports the Liberals have closed the gap with the NDP by three points, now putting them about fourteen points behind. Most of those gains, when you dig a little, have come from the other parties equally. (There’s no sign yet that the population of non-voters is engaging with Christy in any way.)
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Clark came across as a little too aggressive, and a little too much of a (if you’ll pardon the expression) bull artist, though. She continues to claim the budget is balanced, even though the province is only four weeks into its new fiscal year and the debt continues to rise. Both callers and moderator Good expressed their disbelief — it wasn’t just her opponents — but what’s so in the mind of Christy is “truth, damn it”.
Where Clark did score points was in the discussion of pipelines — and that’s where NDP leader Adrian Dix fell down, big time.
Dix claims to be a man of principle. His principle, when it came to pipelines, was that until there was a formal proposal submitted he should not react one way or the other. That’s why, up until last Monday in Kamloops, he expressed no view positive or negative on Kinder Morgan’s expected proposal to twin the Trans-Mountain pipeline to Burnaby, even as he had come out against Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal to run a line to Kitimat.
For the record, John Cummins of the Conservatives supports the use of pipelines without reservation — “they are the safe method”, he told the listeners — and Jane Sterk of the Greens opposes both projects, as a poor use of resources and on environmental grounds. Clark last year changed course to oppose Northern Gateway, but left the door open to be bribed to return to supporting it, and has so far kept her distance from the Trans-Mountain plan.
Dix swapped to opposition — and to be fair, what he opposes is adding export tanker traffic to an already-congested Port of Vancouver and Georgia Strait, not the pipeline itself — in an appearance in Kamloops on Monday, apparently in response to panic inside his own New Democratic Party over vote erosion to the Greens.
Dix could have used this radio time to make what he opposes and why clear, showing that he hasn’t flip-flopped on the not-yet-a-formal-proposal pipeline but is concerned about harbour traffic. But he didn’t. He hemmed, hawed, backed, filled, and generally came across as an unprincipled idiot as the other three leaders moved in for the kill.
Dix, in fact, failed the first test of radio as a medium throughout. He was too cool, too measured, to connect with the audience. If you’re the sort who judges winners and losers, he is definitely the leader who came in last.
But Clark — who desperately needed to be the clear and unambiguous winner — didn’t even contend for the “first nose past the tape”. She (and remember that of the four of them she’s the one with five plus years’ experience on radio) went too far the other way. Add that to the extensive use of hyperbole and she didn’t manage to build on any momentum the Liberals have gained. Mark her a third-place finisher.
Jane Sterk, frankly, did the best job of the four. She struck the right balance of emotion — when a caller asked a question about social assistance revealing she had problems in this area, Sterk was the only leader to make a human connection with the caller before diving into policy talking points — and evidence-based logic.
Most of all, Sterk did something few third-party leaders do: she was up front about that fact that she wasn’t contending to be premier in BC Election 2013. (The candidates in the recent Liberal Party of Canada leadership race, with their endless “next Prime Minister of Canada” introductions, could take notes from this sensible woman.) She was clear she was competing to elect MLAs who could be “watchdogs” holding whomever wins a plurality of seats to account. When asked how many she expected, she answered proudly “four” (which is the outside chance for the Greens based on poll analysis, converting opinion and voting likelihood into seats, done by Éric Grenier). Points for humanity, and points for honesty.
John Cummins did a credible job. He managed to avoid Clark’s forays into hyper-space and Dix’s into dull-land, unabashedly defending unpopular opinions (the majority of British Columbians, for instance, are against pipelines carrying oil sands products simply to be exported by tankers, but Cummins is willing to stand against that and argue for it on the grounds of national and provincial interest), and talking up the positives in the Conservatives’ thinking.
Next week’s polls will give a clearer indication if he was able to stop vote erosion to the Liberals and give his candidates a shot at winning in their best-chance seats. (Like Sterk, Cummins’ best outcome is enough MLAs for official party status — four are needed — and a base to build on for 2017 and beyond.)
The leaders will be continuing their preparation for Monday’s television debate — unlike the radio version, they will tilt directly with each other — and campaigning this weekend. Monday is Clark’s last chance to pull this out of the fire of defeat — for, despite coming in dead last yesterday, Dix isn’t hurt yet.
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Category: British Columbia