As the five candidates running in Saanich South prepare for tonight’s all-candidate meeting at Claremont Secondary, yesterday’s debate suggets incumbent MLA Lana Popham and her B.C. Liberal challenger Dave Calder will find themselves in the spolight.
Once political allies, now adversaries, Popham and Calder clashed on several occasions during Tuesday’s debate on CFAX 1070.
Sitting next to each other, Popham and Calder disagreed on a wide range of issues such as affordable housing, economic development, and health care.
While hardly unusual, their disagreements had a distinct personal colour as Calder had served on the executive board of Popham’s constituency association for a year following her successful 2013 election campaign.
Calder – who joined the B.C. Liberals in November 2016 — addressed this issue during his opening remarks. “You may know, four years ago I volunteered for Lana, because we share similar values,” said Calder. “But this riding and this region has been overlooked far too long because our representatives have been in opposition.”
While Popham sidestepped Calder’s previous political affiliation during her opening comments, she raised it during the portion of the debate that afforded candidates chance to ask another candidate a question.
Referring to Calder as the “Liberal candidate,” Popham asked Calder to clarify his position concerning Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion project.
The provincial government agreed in January to support it after the federal government promised up to $1-billion over 20 years for enhanced marine spill measures.
“In 2013, you were personally opposed to expanding the KinderMorgan pipeline,” said Popham. That project, she said, would increase the number of super-tankers “floating past Cordova Bay” seven-fold. “Now you are running for a party that is promising to do exactly that. What changed?”
Calder said “nothing” had changed. “Climate change and the environment remain priorities for me,” he said. “To be honest with you, I want to carry the shared values that we have across this riding…to the decision-makers in government,” said Calder, who said that he continues to have “reservations” about the project. “That has been reinforced on the doorsteps, talking to many, many, many citizens in this riding,” he said. “The truth of the matter is that the KinderMorgan [decision] was a federal decision.”
Popham however circled back to the issue.
“Do you now support Kinder Morgan?” Popham asked. “I want to be the voice for the people of this riding and I want to carry my, their reservations forward to table,” Calder.
“Do you have reservations about the project?” Popham asked again. “Yes, I have said that already.”
It was then Calder’s turn to pose Popham a question. “You and I share many values and you have been critical of my decision to run for the B.C. Liberals,” he said. “You have questioned my values and my values have not changed,” he said. “What has changed is the my view on effective representation…will this race be about the issues that matter to the people in the riding or is it going to be about partisan politics?”
Popham said she always been a “very issued-based” politician, who has “always made sure that the priorities of Saanich South are my priorities.”
Popham added that his election is about values. “I’m not sure that the B.C Liberal values and the B.C. NDP values line up,” she said. “In fact, we have different priorities than the B.C. Liberals and as a candidate, I’d be sure that your opinions reflect the values of the party that you are running for.”
This dynamic between Popham and Calder arguably overshadowed the rest of the debate, which also featured Mark Neufeld of the B.C. Greens as the other major party candidate.
Neufeld earlier this month had to apologize for comments he had made during a rally, where he drew what many considered was an insenitive comparison between the struggle for civil rights under Martin Luther King and the struggle of the B.C. Greens to gain more seats.
Neufeld repeated his apology, after B.C. Libertarian Party candidate Andrew McLean questioned Neufeld’s decision to apologize on freedom-of-speech grounds.
Richard Pattee of the Vancouver Island Party also participated in the debate.