VANCOUVER – The man who called the election during a pandemic in B.C. was held to account for his decision in Tuesday’s leaders debate as NDP Leader John Horgan tried to frame the narrative surrounding COVID-19 around past Liberal policies affecting health care.
The televised debate featured the three party leaders keeping their distance because of the pandemic. They also dispensed with the usual handshakes in a largely civil debate, with some of the most pointed disagreements emerging on the best approach for economic recovery and energy policy.
The economy after the pandemic featured heavily in Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson’s attacks on Horgan as he accused the New Democrats of bringing in a $1.5 billion recovery plan that’s too late for many.
Wilkinson said other provinces had their plans in place in June and July, while Horgan “stalled” to bring in a plan for B.C. just before he called the election, a decision that has hit the tourism sector hard.
“You chose to leave them out in the breeze,” he said. “That’s not leadership, John, that’s self interest.”
Horgan tried to tie outbreaks in long-term care homes during the pandemic to previous Liberal governments, arguing tax cuts almost 20 years ago that led to 10,000 jobs cuts in health care led to understaffing in the facilities and “tragic” consequences for senior citizens today.
“The B.C. Liberals put a big hole in the budget by giving tax breaks to the wealthiest, firing 10,000 people,” he said in a question to Wilkinson, asking him if that was the right decision.
“It was the wrong thing to do. It focused on people who didn’t need help and punished those who did,” Horgan said.
“It certainly didn’t help seniors when the pandemic hit.”
Horgan’s decision to launch an election was also called into question, but he said after he “grappled” with the decision to go to the polls a year before the next fixed-date election was scheduled he determined it was the right time.
“Our worlds have been turned upside down,” he said. “And I think the best course of action is to put the politics and the election behind us.”
Green Leader Sonia Furstenau separated herself from the other two parties on energy policy, criticizing them for subsidizing major projects like pipelines and delaying a switch to an economy based on clean energy.
Asked if pipelines like the Trans Mountain and Coastal GasLink are still necessary to support jobs, she said the province is running out of time to fight climate change.
“We have to invest now into the future that we want,” she said. “If we are propping up a dying fossil fuel industry with taxpayer money, what we’re going to get is more emergencies down the road.”
She said spending money to create a clean economy would also create jobs across the province.
Furstenau also put Wilkinson under pressure for his promise to eliminate the PST for a year, a promise that would cause provincial revenue to dip by $6.9 billion.
The Liberal promise would have consequences with cuts to services including for mental health and housing, she added.
But Wilkinson said the tax cut would “turbocharge” the economy by encouraging people to shop in the province.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 13, 2020.
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