VANCOUVER – B.C. Premier Christy Clark was attacked for everything from her government’s decision to bring in the hated HST to her early morning decision to run a red light in an all-candidates television debate Monday night.
Green Party Leader Jane Sterk quizzed both Clark and NDP Leader Adrian Dix on their environmental policies and Conservative Leader John Cummins trolled for votes by pointing out the Liberals weren’t likely to win the election so casting a vote in his direction would send a message. But the most hard-fought exchanges were between Clark and Dix, as they traded barbs over whose economic platforms were likely to leave the province in better shape.
The HST “damaged every business on the way in and on the way out,” Dix charged, throwing out early the issue that did more than any other to damage Liberal fortunes in the province and prompted former premier Gordon Campbell to resign.
Clark responded that she had kept a commitment to give British Columbians a say in the matter and instead tried to focus the discussion on what the Liberals regard as an NDP platform that does nothing to create jobs.
The NDP has made skills training a focus of its platform, saying the Liberals have cut money for those programs.
“Instead of investing in skills training, the government has cut skills training,” Dix said.
Retorted Clark: “In your plan, Mr. Dix, you’re talking about training people and giving them the education they need to go find jobs in Alberta.”
As the midway point of the election campaign dawns Tuesday, the television debate raised the stakes.
In the lead-up to the television appearance, the Liberals attempted to pin Adrian Dix on his party’s stance on natural gas fracking, noting that while Dix has promised to allow fracking to continue while a review takes place, one of his candidates has instead promised a two-year moratorium.
Such a moratorium, the Liberals say, would dash the province’s hopes of the jobs and economic growth that would come with a head start in the worldwide race to develop liquefied natural gas.
The NDP, in turn, seized on a comment made by Clark last week during an all-leaders’ radio debate, when she was asked why her government cancelled funding to an arms-length body that conducted evaluations of drugs for PharmaCare.
Dix’s news conference on the Therapeutics Initiative was overshadowed by comments made by Charlie Wyse, the NDP candidate in the Cariboo-Chilcotin, who said his party wants a moratorium on fracking.
“The position of the NDP is that there will be a moratorium put on fracking for the next two years while the science will be brought together to find out the effect, if anything, that fracking has on the water table,” Wyse said during an all-candidates’ meeting Friday. A recording of his comments was provided by the Liberals.
Dix said simply Wyse misspoke.
“We don’t support a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. We do support a review,” Dix said.
“We are concerned around issues of water use and we will conduct (such a review) should we be elected based on the science. That’s been there for a number of years. There won’t be any moratorium. We’ll be awaiting the results of that review.”
The Liberals have repeatedly pointed out what they say are discrepancies between the NDP’s official platform, as outlined by Dix, and what some of his candidates have said in the past.
They point to George Heyman, the former executive director of Sierra Club B.C., who was opposed to fracking and is now the NDP candidate in Vancouver-Fairview. Heyman has said he now adopts the NDP position.
NDP energy critic John Horgan said earlier in the campaign that though a moratorium is not what the NDP is pursuing, “you don’t put in place a review if you’ve predetermined the outcome,” and he noted he has not seen any evidence to suggest a moratorium is necessary.
Dix brushed aside the controversy as a simple mistake by a candidate.
The NDP’s news conference was focused on the Therapeutics Initiative, an independent agency based at the University of British Columbia that evaluated drugs for PharmaCare. The Liberals cut funding to the initiative in 2010, and Clark said Friday the decision was made in part to protect private sector interests.
“In a debate on Friday, the premier of British Columbia … said to us that they were getting rid of the Therapeutics Initiative because we had to ensure that the pharmaceutical industry could make money in B.C.,” Dix said Monday.
“This is why we’re getting rid of a world-leading body dealing with drug evaluation. That’s not a mistake. That’s a disaster to public policy.”
Clark was asked directly during the radio debate Friday why the Liberals ended the program.
“Trying to make sure that we are managing the drugs as best we can and respecting the private sector at the same time,” she responded during the radio debate.
“Since I’ve become premier, we’ve lowered the cost of generic drugs for seniors and we’ve done that by working hard with the pharmacies that provide those drugs and making sure that seniors get a better deal. We’re finding better ways to achieve those same ends. It’s trying to make sure that we’re running government in a business-like manner.”
Dix said the initiative has been essential for B.C. patients and doctors, noting it saves money.
In a January 2011 news release, the B.C. government said it was reorganizing the way it reviews drugs in an effort to bring in more experts and allow for more transparency.
The government flatly denied it was bending to pressure from the pharmaceutical industry and instead said three of the five teams chosen to conduct clinical evidence reviews were headed by members of the Therapeutics Initiative.
“Those who have stated that the Therapeutics Initiative is being eliminated or that we are bowing to industry pressures are completely wrong,” said the health minister at the time, Colin Hansen.
Note to readers: This is a corrected version. The original version contained an incorrect spelling for Wyse.