Disputes over environmental policy produced the sharpest disagreements among the candidates for Victoria Swan-Lake during their all-candidates meeting Sunday afternoon.
Sources of disagreement between New Democratic MLA Rob Fleming, BC Liberal candidate Stacey Piercey and BC Green candidate Chris Maxwell included the future of the provincial carbon tax, provincial plans to expand the liquefied natural industry, Site C, the expansion of the KinderMorgan pipeline and plans for an oil refinery in northern British Columbia.
Held in front of about 80 people at the Burnside Gorge Community Centre, the all-candidates meeting heard candidates answer questions from organizing community associations as well as audience members on a wide but arguably familiar range of subjects including health care, housing and welfare, with some questions repeating themselves in spirit, as well as substance.
The local event also mirrored provincial dynamics as Fleming, a notable member of the New Democratic shadow government, attacked the governing record of the BC Liberals. Towards the end of the debate, he acccused the provincial government of treating the residents of Greater Victoria as “second-class citizens” whom the provincial government has ignored in terms of infrastructure spending.
Maxwell, meanwhile, directed most if not all of his attacks against the New Democrats. This dynamic appeared most clearly when the questions turned towards environmental subjects such as the provincial carbon tax.
“Our plan is to get the carbon tax moving again and rebate it for families,” said Fleming, adding a future New Democratic government would invest additional revenues from the carbon tax into public transit and retro-fitting of buildings. Maxwell, however, questioned the commitment of the New Democrats towards the carbon tax, noting that the New Democrats had actually opposed it following its introduction.
While Maxwell and Fleming found common ground in their opposition to liquefied natural gas, expansion of Kinder Morgan pipeline and Site C, Fleming asked Maxwell why his party leader Andrew Weaver supports plans for a Kitimat refinery as proposed by David Black, whose media company owns the Saanich News.
Piercey, for her part, often found herself on the defensive when facing questions about the environment. Among other points, she defended Site C as a source of clean energy and touted the economic potential of B.C.’s liquefied natural gas industry once prices rise again.
Sunday’s all-candidates meeting also revealed considerable differences among the candidates in terms of their political seasoning. Fleming, a former councillor in the City of Victoria, whom voters first elected to the provincial legislature in 2005, appeared to be the most comfortable member of the trio during the event, which lasted for 90 minutes. Piercey, meanwhile, often struggled to be heard by audience members in the back of the room and her answers often sounded scripted and sometimes short. Maxwell, meanwhile, was more polished, and grew more confident as the meeting progressed.
Towards the end, he sheepishly apologized in advancce that life under a future B.C. Green government would initially be more expensive as the province transitions away from fossil fuels.
But for all this levity, Sunday’s meeting also featured several interruptions from hecklers, prompting the moderator to remind audience of basic decorum rules. Halfway through the meeting, Piercey also asked a New Democratic supporter to move from the front row to the back following what the supporter described was a “uncomfortable” exchange of eye contact. Piercey for her part accepted the volunteer’s offer to move to the back.