Good questions keep candidates on their toes at Sun debate
By Matthew Robinson, 5 Nov 2014, vancouversun.com
Strong insight into the character of political candidates can come when they’re thrown off balance, and that happened with surprising regularity at a Tuesday night debate presented by The Vancouver Sun and SFU Public Square.
But the evening’s clearest insight may have come near the beginning, after Harold Munro, the debate moderator and The Sun’s Editor, asked four of Vancouver’s mayoral candidates to introduce one another to the 200-some audience members.
Kirk LaPointe, carrying the banner of the Non-Partisan Association into the Nov. 15 municipal election, introduced incumbent Mayor Gregor Robertson, representing Vision Vancouver.
“This might be a little bit different than my eventual opening remarks,” he said, to laughter.
“I believe our mayor, Mr. Robertson, has been formidable in his drive on his beliefs and I think we all have to respect people who stand on their beliefs and pursue them,” said LaPointe.
Robertson then introduced audience members to Bob Kasting, the evening’s sole independent.
“Bob has been extremely polite and reasonable in these debates,” he said. “I appreciate his points ... holding us all to task.”
Kasting introduced Meena Wong, running for the city’s top spot with the Coalition of Progressive Voters.
“I respect her enormous passion for the issue that she speaks about. She speaks with a certain raw enthusiasm that I rarely see in people who debate.”
Lastly, Wong introduced LaPointe.
“He has been always very polite, very articulate and always seems to be upholding some of the values that we as Canadians always believe in — that of transparency and accountability in government.”
The warm pleasantries of the evening didn’t last long. In an icy round of opening remarks, the candidates exchanged barbed comments, quickly distancing themselves from one another.
LaPointe took on Robertson, stating that voters had the choice of “an open government versus a closed government,” a theme he returned to in his closing remarks.
Robertson struck back, claiming that the NPA would walk away from homelessness, child care, affordable housing and the environment.
Kasting shifted his crosshairs from the other candidates to The Sun, noting that “they tend to want a two-horse race and I am the third or arguably the fourth.” It was a comment that drew laughter and softened the audience for a strong appeal he delivered in his closing remarks.
The evening’s first question came from Jeff Lee, the Sun’s city hall reporter, who asked candidates to articulate their parties’ path to affordability.
Wong shone in her response to the question, stating that the city, not developers, should be building and operating social housing on city-owned lands.
Maureen Maloney, a professor in SFU’s School of Public Policy, threw the evening’s second pitch, asking the candidates for their visions on the city’s economic future.
LaPointe said its future was in its port and the jobs it offers.
“They’re not dirty jobs. They’re not nefarious jobs, they’re important jobs,” he said, adding that you don’t need to make a choice between the environment and the economy.
Kasting attributed the city’s economic engine to small businesses, while Robertson plugged the tech sector.
When asked about campaign financing, Robertson said he wants a rule change that would take the big money out of politics, but “until those rules change, we’ll play by those rules.”
Kasting smiled as he delivered his rebuttal: “I think those statements are a bit like the alcoholic blaming the bartender.”
On the environment, Wong said cars were the greatest threat to the city’s environment, adding that she would push for cheap transit passes to draw adults out of their cars.
Kasting drew a strong round of applause for measured closing remarks that called for a mayor who could run a mixed council, something he said was a virtual certainty.
“They’re going to have to make a series of decisions about how to bring this city forward in a sane, rational, helpful way that is going to make the city a better place to live in,” he said.
“One of the people that you might want to consider to do that, of course, is an independent. That would be me.”