It was the last debate of the current provincial election campaign in both Langleys and the first to feature social media and online streaming.
All nine candidates in the Langley and Fort Langley-Aldergrove participated in the two-hour Wednesday night debate held at the Langley Township council chambers.
The event was organized by the South Fraser CARP chapter 48 (The acronym originally stood for the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, but that was dropped when the organization changed its mandate to include more than retirement issues).
More than 100 people attended, filling the municipal parking lot and packing the council seating area to near-capacity.
Moderator Kim Richter and a media panel that included Times editor Frank Bucholtz put the questions to the candidates.
The debate was broadcast live on the internet and questions were collected via the Twitter social media channel, with online comments projected on one of the large council display screens.
Questions were also collected in a more traditional way, with volunteers collecting hand-written questions from the audience.
A recording of the live feed was posted online Tuesday, May 6.
It was a wide-ranging debate, covering everything from the HST to transit and more.
On the subject of the HST, none of the candidates supported bringing some version of the combined tax back to help small business, which has been struggling with the practical impact of the provincial referendum that reinstated a mix of provincial and federal taxes.
The issue of the controversial Wall property proposal to build housing on farmland near TWU saw some disagreement among the Fort Langley-Aldergrove candidates. Conservative Rick Manuel said agricultural preservation rules have to be re-thought, while Green party candidate Lisa David was flatly opposed to removing land from the Agricultural Land Reserve. Independent Kevin Mitchell said there was “no compelling reason” to build the project, incumbent Liberal MLA Rich Coleman said the issue was a matter for the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) which can’t be “interfered with by politicians” and NDP candidate Shane Dyson said the provincial government must give “clear direction” to the ALC about preserving farmland.
Langley candidates split on the carbon tax, with Green hopeful Wally Martin supporting it as “a fee you pay for dumping your garbage in the sky” while Conservative John Cummins dismissed it as “punitive.”
“The carbon tax penalizes those of us who live south of the Fraser and don’t have access to [adequate public transit]” Cummins said.
Liberal MLA Mary Polak said the government intends to freeze the carbon tax while NDP rival Andrew Mercier said his party would make adjustments to improve the tax.
Both incumbent MLAs maintained an optimistic stance in the face of polls showing the Liberal government running behind the opposition NDP.
“I believe we’re going to win,” Coleman said, hinting Liberal polls show the race is “tightening up.”
“We’ve been narrowing that gap,” Coleman said.
Polak said as someone who used to operate a small polling company, she knows that “pollsters don’t win elections, voters do.”
Asked later how they would handle being in opposition, both again said they didn’t expect that will happen, but if it does, they expected to work as local MLAs representing local interests in Victoria.
On transit, all of the Langley contenders agreed there is plenty of room for improvement, but their solutions varied.
The NDP’s Mercier and Liberal Polak were farthest apart, with the New Democrat calling for the revival of the Lower Mainland mayor’s council that used to run TransLink, while Polak said the former TransLink board made up of mayors and councillors was too “Vancouver-centric” and that was why there is a transit “backlog” south of the Fraser.
The Green’s Martin took a swipe at Coleman for suggesting the new Port Mann bridge represented a partial transit solution for commuters, calling the notion “kind of amusing” while Conservative Cummins took issue with tolls, estimating the fees for bridge crossings amount to a yearly tax of $1,800 for those who have to use them regularly.
Only one of the candidates was willing to endorse the amalgamation of both Langleys into one city, while the rest said that was a matter for both communities to decide themselves.
The Green’s Lisa David felt a merged municipality would be more efficient.
“It would reduce the redundancies,” she said. “I believe amalgamation should happen.”
A final throwaway question generated the closest thing to a surprise, when the panel wanted to know who should be in goal for the Vancouver Canucks, in the playoffs.
When the NDP’s Mercier outed himself as a Habs fan, there were some good-natured groans from the other candidates and audience.