As his party’s candidate in the Westside-Kelowna byelection prepared to go head-to-head with Premier Christy Clark in the first of two all-candidates’ debates Thursday night, NDP leader Adrian Dix came to Kelowna to blast Clark and her Liberal government for what he called the “mismanagement” of B.C. Hydro.
Dix and NDP candidate Carole Gordon met with the media hours before the debate, saying it’s telling that while Clark said recently she was personally holding down rate increases for B.C. Hydro customers, her energy minister, Bill Bennett, was saying publicly “everyone” in government recognizes rates are going to have to go up because of B.C. Hydro’s growing debt.
The reason for that growing debt is, in part, cost overruns associated with the Northwest Transmission Line, a project approved by the B.C. Hydro board before the last provincial election.
The board, said Dix, is made up of Liberal Party appointees, including Kelowna’s own Brad Bennett (no relation to the energy minister), who acted as a close advisor to Clark during the election campaign.
Also, Clark’s current chief of staff was the interim head of B.C. Hydro when the transmission line project was approved by the board.
“What Liberal leadership means is incompetence and misleading actions,” said Dix, adding it will be especially hard on West Kelowna residents as they are served by B.C. Hydro. (Residents in Kelowna are served by FortisBC.)
Gordon said she is now starting to hear concerns about a $342-million cost overrun of the Northwest Transmission Line project from residents on the doorstep as she campaigns in the byelection.
Dix said the overrun is in addition to $4.3 billion of debt B.C. Hydro has racked up, which he accused the government of trying to hide through its use of deferral accounts.
The B.C. Hydro debt issue is the second major black eye for the new Liberal government since it won a surprising come-from-behind victory over the NDP in the May 14 provincial election.
Shortly after winning re-election, Clark raised the salaries of top bureaucrats but was forced to back off the plan following a public outcry. The government had campaigned on a promise to reduce provincial spending.
In the election, Clark led her party to a majority government but lost her own Vancouver-Point Grey seat.
She is running in the Westside-Kelowna byelection against Gordon and six other candidates and looking to replace Ben Stewart who won the seat for the Liberals on May 14.
The first of two all-candidates debates was scheduled for last light with a second, to be held this morning (Friday) at the Streaming Cafe in Kelowna. (Full coverage of both debates will appear on the Capital News website.)
Heading into the Thursday evening debate, both Clark and Gordon said they were ready to speak directly to voters but both realized, with eight people in the race, the amount of time they would have to get their points across would be limited.
Dix said while he was in town to help Gordon campaign Thursday afternoon and this morning, he did not plan to attend the debate so as to keep the spotlight on Gordon beuase she is the NDP candidate.
During the provincial campaign, Clark and Dix debated each other twice—along with Green Party leader Jane Sterk and B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins— but Clark did not debate the man who defeated her in her own riding, David Eby of the NDP.