VANCOUVER — British Columbia's election campaign is entering its final stretch after a TV debate Wednesday night that saw the three party leaders spar on the economy, housing and political leadership.
Liberal Leader Christy Clark is trying to maintain her party's 16-year grip on power and while her record was a target for her opponents, Clark was also on the offensive as she took shots at the NDP and Green party's financial policies as a risk to an economy that has led growth across the country.
But growth has also meant scorching house prices in the Vancouver area.
Faced with the charge from NDP Leader John Horgan that the Liberals waited too long to help families trying to put a roof over their heads, Clark said she wanted to make sure the government didn't wipe out the value people have built in their homes by acting rashly.
"For people who already own a home, you have a lot of equity in that home, it is your investment and it's something that you want to protect. So it was really important that our government make sure we did all of our homework," said Clark, adding measures her government has taken like a 15 per cent tax on foreign buyers in Metro Vancouver has helped slow rising house prices.
Green leader Andrew Weaver told Clark her government has a wrong-headed view of housing.
"Houses and accommodations should be there for people to live in, not to be viewed as commodities to trade like gold or potash," he said.
Weaver and Horgan traded barbs during much of the debate, with the Green leader saying the New Democrats are not much of an alternative to Clark's Liberals who have been in government since 2001.
"Sixteen years and your whole narrative is to be better than the B.C. Liberals," said Weaver. "Well, Mr. Horgan better than really bad is still just plain bad."
The leaders debated for the first time last week on radio, which was largely remembered for a testy exchange after Clark touched Horgan on the arm and told him to calm down, causing the NDP leader to ask his Liberal counterpart not to touch him again.
The debate on Wednesday featured issue-dominated topics, but the moderator also singled out Horgan on his temperament, asking if he has an anger-management problem.
Horgan said he gets angry when he sees government inaction on a range of issues from underfunding of schools to a lack of support for children in care, which has resulted in suicide.
"I'm passionate. I got involved in public life because I wanted to make life better for people," he said.
Clark was also put on the spot when she was asked about a stipend she once collected from the Liberal party on top of her salary as premier and about the political donations that have led to a police investigation of B.C.'s political parties.
The Liberal leader deflected the question on trust, partly by discussing her economic record.
"I am someone ... who has in my first term as premier experienced some controversy, but I have always done that with the best interests of people at heart, making sure that we are creating jobs for people."
The campaign has defined distinct choices for voters from the three parties.
The Liberals have run a largely stay-the-course campaign so far, highlighting their stewardship of Canada's top-performing economy. Clark is promising a personal income tax freeze, a small business tax cut and four more balanced budgets, building on a string of surpluses in the last five years.
She said she is promising to create more jobs while the Greens and NDP oppose projects that create employment.
"Both of these men have spent most of their political careers trying to fight against jobs in B.C.," said Clark. "John Horgan is compromised and Dr. Weaver just isn't that interested."
Horgan is running on the slogan "It's time for a government that works for you," a swipe at the Liberals over political donations from corporations and wealthy individuals. Clark has fired back on political donations, accusing the NDP of being under the influence of big unions after it emerged that some of the party's senior campaign staff are being paid by the United Steelworkers.
Horgan is promising a daycare program that would cost $10 a day, a significant increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and the elimination of medical services premiums, something the Liberals have promised to halve, starting in January.
Weaver is promising to double the tax on foreign home buyers and extend it across the province, while also providing free daycare for working parents who have children under the age of three.
On the economy, Weaver accused Clark of misleading the public on the promise of a liquefied natural gas industry that she has trumpeted.
Clark said she is still confident LNG will deliver jobs when the gas market recovers.
"Both of these guys want to wave the white flag and put an end to those jobs and those hopes and dreams of all of those people who like to have a regular pay cheque," she said.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press