The four main party leaders participated in the only televised debate of the BC election campaign last night. While there was no clear winner, BC Liberal Leader Christy Clark did not score the knockout punch she needed to change the momentum of the campaign. Some political pundits felt that BC NDP Leader Adrian Dix “won” simply by not being caught off-guard or on the defensive, as he had the most to lose as the campaign front runner. Polls show viewers rated Dix’s performance slightly better than Clark’s with BC Conservative Leader John Cummins and BC Green Leader Jane Sterk well behind.
Dix seemed nervous at the start but appeared more confident through the 90 minute debate. He was challenged by Clark on whether his party would balance the budget and how his skills training plans would translate into jobs. He in turn questioned Clark on the success of her Jobs Plan, whether the government budget was in fact balanced and on whether bond rating agencies had validated that point. When asked if he was opposed to all economic development, he cited his support for natural gas, mining, forestry, tourism and the film industry.
Clark was easily the most polished and telegenic of the four and repeated her position numerous times that the election is a choice between growing the economy with the BC Liberals and growing government with the BC NDP. She challenged Dix on his flip-flop last week to now oppose the Kinder Morgan pipeline in contrast to his earlier statement that he would remain neutral until there was a formal application. She also had to again address the recent controversy about going through a red light with her son and a reporter in the car, saying, “there is no answer other than to say I was wrong to do it.”
Sterk’s role was smaller than Friday’s radio debate as other leaders did not direct questions to her in the head-to-head segments. But when given the opportunity, she was well prepared and engaged the other leaders effectively. Working to demonstrate the Greens are more than a one issue party, Sterk went after Dix on the BC NDP’s proposed $20 increase to welfare rates, calling it a “pittance”.
Cummins boldly stated that people watching had already assumed Dix was going to be Premier and encouraged the electorate to vote for his candidates to send a political message. He was questioned on how his party would make up the revenue lost by eliminating the carbon tax and why his party had to reject four candidates due to unacceptable online postings.
The four leaders and their candidates will continue trying to engage new voters and encourage their base to vote for the remaining two weeks of the campaign as more voters become engaged and opinions solidify.