Les Leyne: Debate barbs aimed at Dix

When Adrian Dix refused a one-on-one debate with Christy Clark, part of the thinking was that it would be nicer to have the two other leaders involved — so they could all gang up on the premier.

Imagine his surprise when they went at it on CKNW Friday morning and everybody ganged up on him. So much for strategic scheming.

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Dix got roughed up by all three leaders over a number of NDP ideas that go either too far or not far enough, depending on who was snapping at him at any given moment.

The only consolation is that the main target in any round-robin debate is always the perceived front-runner. So the NDP will be congratulating itself that the shots Dix sustained are actually an indication of how far ahead they are in the campaign. Wearing the bull’s-eye on your back is like wearing the yellow jersey in the Tour de France.

Clark, subjected to her own share of jabs over balanced budget claims, tried to deflect some of them by contrasting her hypothetical budget with Dix’s.

“You can’t get there if you do what Mr. Dix is promising, which is never to balance the budget, to throw out the balanced budget law. … You have to start there, then build a natural gas industry in B.C. that will change our economy forever,” she said.

“What Mr. Dix would do is change his mind every day, obscure his policies on this, and hide where he really wants to go.”

Dix retorted that Clark is the only person in B.C. who believes the budget is balanced, and is just reciting campaign slogans rather than discussing issues.

That prompted Clark to say Dix has promised $3 billion in spending in nine days: “Same old NDP. Big unions, big special interests, big taxes, big debt.”

But that was just a warm-up for the main event, which centred on Dix’s abrupt declaration earlier that he opposes making Vancouver an oil port, as Kinder Morgan’s current pipeline expansion plan would do.

After months of withholding comment on the excuse that KM hasn’t formally applied for anything yet, Dix abandoned that stand early in the campaign and opposed a Vancouver oil port — if not the pipeline itself (it could be rerouted to Deltaport, or Washington state.)

Dix said the vital coast is vulnerable. “I don’t think this port should become an oil tanker export port.”

Clark again landed on him. “He’s taken a different position on Kinder Morgan every week, it seems.” She accused him of concealing a decision made months ago, along with his election platform. “What else are you keeping from us? What else are you saying you’re going to wait and tell us after the election?”

It takes a lot of moxie for a B.C. Liberal to accuse anyone of concealing plans, given the HST experience. But the exchange shows how determined they are to make up the NDP lead.

Green leader Jane Sterk also demanded answers from Dix on the pipeline, saying he’s only opposing more tankers in Vancouver waters, not the pipeline.

That brought Conservative leader John Cummins into the fray, from the other side of the question, since he’s all in favour of pipelines and oil ports.

He said Dix was being unreasonable because oil tankers are safe as can be, and already use B.C. waters every day.

“It’s a safe way to move oil, and to suggest otherwise is simply irresponsible and untrue,” Cummins said.

The NDP plan to renege on the Liberals’ RESP contribution prompted another heated exchange. Liberals have been banking money to deposit $1,200 in every B.C. child’s RESP account, which would collect interest over time. An NDP government would cancel the one-time grant and use that account for other family programs.

Clark said Dix will “take that money away, suck it into government,” because the NDP thinks it knows better than parents.

Dix said it was disrespectful to mischaracterize it that way, accusing Liberals of running Chinese media ads saying he’s “taking money from children and giving it to my friends.”

The 90-minute argument was just a warm-up for the main televised event, Monday at 6:30 p.m., when the quartet squares off again. It should be dramatic, because it’s clear Clark is fighting for her life.

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