Premier targeted in Westside-Kelowna candidate debates

Christy Clark faced a barrage of attacks from her challengers in two all-canddiates debates but refused to return fire.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark says it’s time to start planning a second crossing of Okanagan Lake.

Clark, who faced off with her seven challengers in back-to-back all-candidates meetings Thursday and Friday, said if the government can start the planning process to replace the George Massey Tunnel in the Lower Mainland, then why not start planning a second bridge over Okanagan Lake as well.

“I believe it is time for us to start planning a second crossing,” she said to cheers at a packed house at the Westbank Community Hall Thursday night that attracted 400 people. She repeated the same comment Friday during a second debate, which was streamed over the internet to an estimated 20,000 viewers.

But her NDP opponent in the Westside-Kelowna byelection, Carole Gordon said while she would like to see an encompassing transportation plan from the government for this area, she is concerned about how a second crossing would be paid for.

In both the debates, Gordon told Clark that despite the premier’s assertions that B.C.’s economy is doing well, it’s not.

“You can keep saying we have a strong economy, but we don’t,” Gordon told her.

And her line of attack was backed up by B.C. Conservative candidate Sean Upshaw, who said under Clark, B.C.’s debt has risen by $12 billion in the two years she has been in office. Clark is promising the government will pay down B.C.’s debt with future budget surpluses.

Both Gordon and Upshaw attacked Clark on several issues at both meetings, including the economy, the province’s debt, transportation and integrity, with Gordon repeatedly asking—but not getting an answer—about how much B.C. Hydro rate hikes will go up for riding residents. Clark said she was personally holding down B.C. Hydro rtes last week, only to be contradicted by her energy minister, Bill Bennett. Bennett said “everyone” in government knew there would be rate hikes because of B.C. Hydro’s debt situation.

Gordon said with a Liberal government elected on May 14, this byelection is about local issues and, as a local resident, she believes she has a better handle, and feels she is better equipped, to address them in Victoria than Clark.

But Clark countered by saying unlike her challengers,  she was running on a positive message, saying she did not believe local voters would vote for complaining and pessimism.

“People in the Central Okanagan are people who get things done,” said Clark.

In addition to vowing to start planning for a second crossing of the lake, Clark has also promised money to fix flooding problems on MacDougall Creek and says more work needs to be done on Westside Road to get it off the list of the worst roads in B.C. It has topped the annual BCAA list for the last two years running.

But her election campaign promises did not sit well with at least two other candidates.

Upshaw questioned if the premier was actually “Chistry Clark or Kris Kringle” with her promises, and independent candidate Dayleen Van Ryswyk was quick to follow.

In the most memorable, and to many the most distasteful comment of the night in Westbank, Van Ryswyk questioned how far the the premier would go in making promises to get elected.

“I’m interested to see what other goodies (Clark) is going to promise. Maybe somebody needs an ovary,” said Van Ryswyk, who was dropped as the NDP candidate in Kelowna-Mission in the general election because of comments she made online several years before complaining about French-Canadians and aboriginal people.

The comment drew an audible gasp and boos from the large crowd in Westbank and seemed to momentarily shock Clark.

Later, when asked about it, the premier she said she felt such a comment had no place in an all-candidates debate.

Gordon, who has been noticeably more aggressive at the two byelection all-candidates debates than she was during her run against Ben Stewart in the general election, pressed Clark repeatedly at both meetings last week, especially on the issue of not living in the riding.

She said by living here, she has heard, and will continue to hear, about local issues that need to be raised in Victoria.

“That because I’m local. I live here. I teach at the school that I went to. My child goes to the same school.”

Clark has said if she wins the byelection, she will set up a second home here but admits her job as premier will take her out of the riding a great deal.

She said she has noticed how much more aggressive Gordon is in this campaign and believes Gordon is being “coached” by NDP officials from party headquarters.

It’s an accusation that makes Gordon bristle.

“All I have is a campaign manager, just like I had last time,” said an indignant Gordon following Friday’s all-candidates meeting.

She said experience camapigning, not coaching, has helped her since winning the NDP nomination in the fall of 2011.

Following Thursday’s all-candidates meeting, Clark, who sat beside Gordon, did not shake hands with her NDP opponent, surprising Gordon. She did shake hands with Jag Bhandari, the B.C. Vision candidate, who sat on her other side.

Asked about the perceived slight, Clark said it was an unintentional oversight because her attention was called away at that moment.

“I hope I didn’t rub her the wrong way,” said an apologetic Clark.

Following Friday’s debate, the pair once again sat side-by-side and did shake hands following what was a much more sedate affair, focussed more on issues and less on personality.

However there was at least one personal shot taken at Clark.

Upshaw mocked the premier for using her “fairy-tale” smile to cover up what he described as the “grand delusion” that the B.C. economy is in good shape.

The description of her smile brought a smile to the premier’s face.

The byelection goes Wednesday, July 10.

Also running are independent candidates John Marks, Korry Zepik and Silvarado Socrates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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