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Wednesday, October 14th, 2020

Ahead of snap election, British Columbia holds cool, courteous, issue focused leaders’ debate

British Columbians are a peo­ple of the north, and the province’s polit­i­cal lead­ers know how to keep their cool. They showed as much Tues­day night in a respect­ful, issue-cen­tered debate between the peo­ple who want to serve as B.C.‘s pre­mier.

The only sign of America’s pol­i­tics, the Trump Tow­er in Van­cou­ver, closed in August due to finan­cial woes brought on by the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic.

Less than two weeks before they vote in a provin­cial elec­tion – although 646,000 have request­ed bal­lots to vote in advance — B.C. vot­ers watched a nine­ty-minute debate that was cour­te­ous, cen­tered on sub­jects rang­ing from the pan­dem­ic to the envi­ron­ment, with a mod­er­a­tor, Shachi Kurl, shut­ting down inter­rup­tions.

“Thank you all for a respect­ful debate: You all get a cook­ie,” Kurl, who heads the Angus Reid Insti­tute, said as she closed the face­off between three par­ty lead­ers.

The debate did noth­ing to halt momen­tum of the left-lean­ing New Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty of out­go­ing Pre­mier John Hor­gan, which had a fif­teen-point lead in a pre-debate poll. The par­ty which wins a major­i­ty in the eighty-sev­en mem­ber British Colum­bia Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly forms the gov­ern­ment. Its leader becomes Pre­mier, com­bin­ing the exec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive branch­es of gov­ern­ment.

Once an angry pres­ence in the Leg­is­la­ture, Hor­gan has become avun­cu­lar, smil­ing and at times agree­ing with and thank­ing fel­low lead­ers, par­tic­u­lar­ly over what has been a uni­fied response to the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic.

He side­stepped ques­tions about a “megapro­ject” that has turned into a mega-white ele­phant, the Site C dam under con­struc­tion on the Peace Riv­er.

“It wasn’t my project: The BC Lib­er­als start­ed it,” he said, refer­ring to the oppo­si­tion par­ty that ruled British Colum­bia for sev­en­teen years until 2017.

The fate of Site C has been punt­ed to a con­sul­tant report, due out after the Octo­ber 24th provin­cial snap elec­tion.

The Lib­er­als’ leader, Andrew Wilkin­son, is of a type not unfa­mil­iar to the Great White North. He is a doc­tor, a lawyer, and a Rhodes Schol­ar.

But he’s also stiff.

In a province known for flam­boy­ant lead­ers, Wilkin­son has had trou­ble con­nect­ing with the folks. He has shown less-than-rapid response on the cam­paign trail.

Wilkin­son was present at a fundrais­er when a B.C. Lib­er­al can­di­date made a rude, sex­ist com­ment about a leg­isla­tive col­league, New Demo­c­rat Bowinn Ma, the youngest mem­ber of the B.C. Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly.

He said noth­ing at the time, lat­er issu­ing a tepid apol­o­gy.

The oppo­si­tion leader also failed to stand up for LGBTQ rights after rev­e­la­tions about two Lib­er­al can­di­dates in the con­ser­v­a­tive Fras­er Val­ley: One leg­isla­tive hope­ful vot­ed in local coun­cil against a rain­bow cross­walk, the oth­er helped finance a pub­li­ca­tion pro­mot­ing con­ver­sion ther­a­py.

Wilkin­son deliv­ered a sort-of mea cul­pa, say­ing he has “gay and les­bian mem­bers in my fam­i­ly.” In last night’s debate, he effec­tive­ly ban­ished the Lib­er­al can­di­date in North Van­cou­ver who com­mit­ted the Ma gaffe, say­ing: “It was abun­dant­ly clear by the end of the roast she’d made a bit of a fool of her­self.”

And: “It was so clear what she did was wrong.”

The episode helps reveal a dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal cul­ture on the oth­er side of the 49th Par­al­lel. While Repub­li­cans in “the States” rail against Medicare for All, Canada’s nation­al health care pro­gram is, as John Hor­gan described it Tues­day night, “what sep­a­rates us from our neigh­bors to the south.”

British Colum­bia has expe­ri­enced 10,734 cas­es of the coro­n­avirus, although five hun­dred and forty-nine new cas­es report­ed this week rep­re­sent an upswing.

The province has expe­ri­enced a total of two hun­dred and fifty deaths. Wash­ing­ton has expe­ri­enced 98,792 con­firmed cas­es with 2,294 deaths.

The dus­tups over sex­ism and anti-LGBTQ feel­ings are also instruc­tive. Human rights and social tol­er­ance are part of Canada’s DNA. Nation­al­ly, the Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty of Cana­da lost last year’s elec­tion in part due to pre­vi­ous oppo­si­tion to mar­riage equal­i­ty by leader Andrew Scheer. British Colum­bia has twice had senior cab­i­net min­is­ters who are gay, and twice seen women in the premier’s office.

The New Democ­rats were kept in pow­er since May of 2017 thanks to the votes of three Green Par­ty mem­bers (all from Van­cou­ver Island) in the Assem­bly. The NDP and Greens had an agree­ment that was due to last until Octo­ber of 2021.

Just after selec­tion of a new Green leader, Sonia Furste­nau, Hor­gan pulled the plug, dis­solv­ing the Assem­bly and call­ing a snap elec­tion. Because B.C. has a par­lia­men­tary gov­ern­ment, he could do that. The Greens were furi­ous, and Furste­nau took after Hor­gan on Tues­day night for the “unnec­es­sary” elec­tion.

The new Green leader had her moment, notably an elo­quent dis­cus­sion of how racism and priv­i­lege live on in the province.

Furste­nau wasn’t buy­ing the New Democ­rats’ new pol­i­cy set­ting aside old growth forests, argu­ing: “We are cut­ting down way more trees than we can sus­tain.”

As with Amer­i­can gov­er­nors, Cana­di­an pre­miers have watched their pop­u­lar­i­ty rise after quick, ear­ly response to the pan­dem­ic. “All of us are fac­ing pres­sures and chal­lenges that could not have been imag­ined before this year,” said Furste­nau.

The province’s tourism/visitor indus­try has hol­lowed out.

Con­certs, Canucks games, and B.C. Lions foot­ball are out.

The bor­der is closed to all but “essen­tial” traf­fic. The province some­times nick­named Canada’s “lotus land” is fac­ing a gloomy win­ter.

Except for John Hor­gan. Wilkin­son didn’t lay a glove on him Tues­day night.

Hor­gan mocked the Lib­er­als’ pro­pos­al to let pri­vate auto insur­ance plans com­pete with the gov­ern­ment-run Insur­ance Cor­po­ra­tion of British Colum­bia, not­ing that the Lib­er­als in pow­er had made a mess of I.C.B.C.

At one point, the New Democ­rats’ leader turned to Wilkin­son and said, “You need to get out in the neigh­bor­hood and talk to peo­ple, my friend.”

Hor­gan stands to “win” the job of plan­ning the province’s recov­ery from a pan­dem­ic with no end in sight. It will be a dif­fi­cult jour­ney.

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One Comment

  1. # by Robert Broughton :: October 14th, 2020 at 3:34 PM

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