A near-capacity crowd shuffled into Mount Seymour United Church Monday night to watch the four North Vancouver-Seymour MLA hopefuls slug it out over pipelines, film tax credits and funding for education.
NDP candidate Jim Hanson blasted Liberal incumbent Jane Thornthwaite over the recent program cuts at Capilano University.
"The future for our young people is training and education," he said. "And yet, this government has cut advanced education funding by 2.5 per cent or $70 million, the only absolute cut in their budget was from advanced education leading to closures of whole programs at CapU and I never heard, I never heard a word from our MLA."
The decision to make spending cuts was unfortunate but necessary, according to Thornthwaite.
"Obviously we have a balanced budget and we want to maintain our fiscal discipline," she said before being interrupted with catcalls and peals of laughter. "Everybody in the family knows that tough decisions are sometimes required and we have to perhaps to say 'no' to some of our children."
Independent candidate Jaime Webbe questioned the wisdom of the provincial government being permitted to run a deficit while restricting universities from the same practice.
"Right now Capilano University gets $6,900 for a fulltime arts student. Emily Carr gets $9,200. The government is disadvantaging our local university," she told the debate's nearly 200 attendees.
The evening afforded Conservative candidate Brian Wilson an opportunity to eviscerate B.C. Ferries, which he characterized as a dense, self-serving bureaucracy.
"There is actually a B.C. Ferries board whose job it is to appoint the members of another B.C. Ferries board, believe it or not," he said. "Each person serving on these boards is paid, producing no value for ferry riders or taxpayers."
He also blasted TransLink for similar problems.
The possible expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline arose, with Thornthwaite chastising the NDP for taking a premature stance and possibly scaring investment from the province.
Hanson voiced strong opposition to pipeline expansion.
"Things go wrong that you never expect, and I want to hear from my friend a clear position: Are there circumstances under which you would support the expansion by six or eight times, the amount of oil that goes through in heavy tankers through our Burrard Inlet?" he asked Thornthwaite.
"There's been tankers in the Burrard Inlet for years," Thornthwaite responded. "I obviously don't want to become a major port for super tankers, but we do have oil tankers there right now so we can't put a stop to it. We can control it."
Everyone in North Vancouver-Seymour needs the economic benefit of oil production, according to Thornthwaite.
"How we're going to get those natural resources to market is going to assist you in your health-care demands, your education demands, your social development demands, so we need to actually get that resource out of the ground and transport it," she said.
Methods employed by unions also proved divisive for Thornthwaite and Hanson.
After employees sign union cards, a labour board tallies the number of cards filled out before deciding to certify a union. Employees considering joining a union should vote with a secret ballot, according to Thornthwaite.
"He does not support the secret ballot," she said of Hanson. "The problem with that is that unions are very intimidating and workers feel intimidated."
The card-check certification system is simple and expeditious, making secret ballots unnecessary, according to Hanson.
Webbe made her case for the value of independent thought in Victoria.
Approximately one out of 400 votes cast in the legislature have gone against party lines since 2001, according to Webbe.
"I can agree with whichever party I think presents the best policies," she said.
Her characterization was disputed by Thornthwaite.
"I can tell you with the B.C. Liberals, a lot of the MLAs do vote against the government bills, that's a fact. We're allowed to do that," the incumbent said.
Wilson characterized the last 20 years of B.C. politics as a see-saw balanced between two nearly indistinguishable left-wing parties.
"B.C. desperately needed a viable conservative option on the ballot and now there is one, one that is truly a free-enterprise, right of centre party, instead of pretending to be one, as the B.C. Liberals often do," he said.
All four candidates cited the importance of B.C.'s film industry, with Hanson pushing for a boost to the province's labour tax credit.
"It makes no sense to have a tax system that isn't competitive with other jurisdiction and then just have the business go elsewhere. We all lose," Hanson said.
Thornthwaite said the industry could benefit if the government works with the ministry of finance to gain an understanding of all the ancillary jobs that benefit from the movie industry.
Wilson and Hanson appeared to be in accord on the subject of housing affordability.
While some co-op housing may help, Wilson said the key issue is the economy.
"We have to get more money coming in and better jobs so that people can actually afford to live here," he said.
Hanson concurred. "The solution lies in better jobs and as long as we're doing things like having ferries built in Europe instead of right here in North Vancouver, there's no way that we're ever going to have a chance," Hanson said, drawing a raucous round of applause.
Helping seniors stay in their homes and increasing funding for education and health care are three of the most vital issues facing the province, according to Webbe.
"I'm sick and tired of education relying on this endless cycle of parent fundraisers. Schools and health care should be funded based on need, not based on what's available," she said.
Hanson and Thornthwaite also sparred over fiscal responsibility, with Hanson blasting the Liberals for selling assets to attempt to balance what he called a "phony" budget. Thornthwaite hit back at the NDP for missing nine out of 10 spending targets in the 1990s.
Wilson supported sport and trophy hunting. "That's a great industry it should be encouraged," he said, drawing gasps and derisive cries from some audience members.