B.C. Green Party Mark Neufeld openly appealed for a minority government with his party holding the balance of power during Wednesday’s all-candidates meeting for Saanich South held at Claremont Secondary School.
“We think we are strong enough this time out as leaders on the Island in current polling, to create a minority government, so we can help both sides get to a place where we are better governed better from this point forward,” said Neufeld.
Neufeld made this appeal as polls show the B.C. Greens with nearly 40 per cent on Vancouver Island, raising the possibility that the party will pick up enough seats beyond its current seat in Oak Bay-Gordon Head to prevent either the incumbent B.C. Liberals or the opposition New Democrats from forming government.
While voters cannot directly choose between a minority or majority government, Neufeld’s appeal speaks to the growing confidence of the Greens and their potential role as king-makers.
Held in front of more than 200 people, Wednesday’s all-candidates meeting marked the second major debate between Neufeld, incumbent MLA Lana Popham, B.C. Liberal David Calder, Vancouver Island Party’s Richard Pattee and B.C. Libertarian Andrew McLean in less than 48 hours. The quintet had debated each other Tuesday morning on CFAX 1070.
Questions came from several community associations as well as audience members and covered a range of issues, some provincial, others more local, including the question of amalgamating the 13 municipalities of the Greater Victoria region. “That’s a doozy,” said Popham with a knowing, if not weary smile. Only McLean openly favoured amalgamation, as the other candidates called for additional study.
Wednesday’s event was less formal than Tuesday’s radio debate and gave candidates a chance to appear more relaxed and natural. Neufeld, who teaches at Claremont, appeared to benefit the most from the environment, cracking several good-natured jokes at his own but also at the expense of other candidates, including Calder, who sat between Popham and Neufeld.
But Neufeld also publicly defended Calder when he faced criticism, if not hostility from the audience when he talked about the need to balance economic growth and environmental protection, when answering a question about provincial plans to expend the liquefied natural gas industry.
One question heading into Wednesday’s debate was whether Calder’s past political relationship with Popham’s New Democratic party would surface, as it did during Tuesday’s CFAX debate. Calder had served one year on the executive board of Popham’s constituency association following her victory in 2013.
The short answer? No.
In fact, Calder used his opening remarks to praise Popham for her personal commitment towards politics, while implicitly questioning her effectiveness as a politician. Popham appeared to anticipate this line of attack throughout the evening as she was quick to recall various local improvements in areas such transportation and public transit during her eight-year tenure as MLA.
While Calder acknowledged the need for improvement in various social policy areas, he argued that the province would not able to achieve those improvements in health care, transportation without a “sound” economy. He also reminded the audience that the B.C. Liberals guided the province through the financial crisis of 2008 into a period of strong economic growth and job creation.
Popham meanwhile stressed that a future New Democratic government would pursue a poverty-reduction strategy, improving welfare rates, while restoring various social-safety programs. Playing on her role as her party’s agriculture critic, Popham also promised to strengthen the Agricultural Land Reserve. Neufeld, meanwhile, stressed his party’s opposition to the expansion of liquid natural gas production and other hydro-carbon energy projects.
Pattee and McLean meanwhile framed themselves in markedly different manners. Whereas Pattee emphasized the future bottom-line benefits of turning Vancouver Island into a separate province, McLean stressed abstract concepts such as freedom as long-term guarantees for economic prosperity and environmental protection.