Am I right in saying you were all edified, enlightened, and entertained by the provincial leadership debate on Tuesday night, which is just wrapping up as I write? Yes, I know I’m really pushing the deadline in finishing this piece, but I like living life on the edge.
The debate was nothing if not exciting, and it certainly wasn’t exciting. While it never (thank goodness) plumbed the depths of the first presidential debate (although there was some talking over each other, particularly from NDP leader John Horgan and Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson), and even managed to clear the low bar set by the vice presidential debate, inasmuch as we actually got answers to some of the questions, there were no knockout punches or real stand-out moments, apart from Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau’s heartfelt comments about racism.
Horgan managed to more or less dodge the justified claim that this is a completely unnecessary election, called mainly because he’s making a bid for four more years of power. Wilkinson spent more time than he probably wanted to talking about recent sexist comments made by Liberal candidate and former MLA Jane Thornthwaite and various tone-deaf statements he’s made over the years. Furstenau — who had been leader of the BC Greens for precisely one month as of debate night — had the least to lose, and did well, but must have wondered more than once what on Earth she’d signed up for. She obviously knew, when she threw her hat in the Green Party leadership ring, that one day she’d be facing this situation if she won, but I doubt she thought it would be this soon.
If you were playing along at home with a Bingo card, you’d have filled up your squares pretty quickly. Site C? ICBC dumpster fire? First Nations relations? $10 a day daycare? Affordable housing? Tent cities? Opioid crisis? All present and accounted for. Thank goodness we finally have ride-hailing services (after a fashion, in some parts of the province), or we’d doubtless have heard about that too.
That all these topics came up is hardly surprising — they’re important — but it made the debate sound like déjà vu, a mere rehash of the points they’ve been talking about for months and a reiteration of their stances on said points. Apart from Wilkinson having to talk about the Thornthwaite comments, which surfaced at the weekend, it’s a debate that could have taken place at almost anytime in the last three-and-a-half years. Yes, COVID-19 got a mention or two, mostly when Horgan was challenged over lack of support for the tourism industry, which has taken a body blow over the last six months, but if anyone had much of anything else to say about it then I missed it.
It was telling, to me, that while Horgan and Wilkinson spent a lot of time attacking each other, Furstenau continually made the point that no matter what the outcome of the election, all three leaders and their parties need to work together for the good of all British Columbians, not retreat to petty partisan politics of the type too often on display. Put it this way: if I had to pick the person for whom “Grabbing power and holding onto it for as long as possible” isn’t a major (if unspoken) part of their vision for the future of B.C., it’s the leader without a Y chromosome.
That said, I also must have missed any meaningful discussion about the very real challenges facing rural B.C. I’m confident that all three party leaders know there’s a fairly substantial part of the province that’s not in the Lower Mainland or southern Vancouver Island— Wilkinson name-checked Lillooet! — but I heard almost nothing about those apparently semi-mythical lands and their mysterious denizens. It was déjà vu all over again, and a depressing reminder that no matter who ends up with the reins of power once the election dust has settled, a million or so British Columbians will probably still find themselves beyond Hope.