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Liberal leadership candidates try to woo BC's north

Last Updated Nov 4, 2017 at 2:09 pm PST

The BC Liberal leadership candidates at the Prince George debate. (Photo courtesy Mike de Jong, via Twitter)

PRINCE GEORGE (NEWS 1130) – With the race to replace Christy Clark well and truly underway, those vying for the top job have faced questions from each other during their second leadership debate.

Forestry and mining jobs were key topics early in the debate, which took place in Prince George,

One of the contenders wants to see some government ministries moved to more rural areas of the province.

Mike de Jong told the crowd that government ministries making decisions around forestry and wildlife management should be located in communities where those issues exist.

“This is not just the northern capital, it’s the forest capital, which is why I think the forest ministry should be located here in Prince George,’ he said to applause.

Another candidate, Andrew Wilkinson, promised during the week that he would establish an office of the Premier and cabinet in Prince George if elected.

Kamloops MLA Todd Stone says forest-dependent communities are angry with a lack of action from the NDP government on softwood lumber.

“What we really need, and I think this is the most important job of a leader and certainly the Premier, and that’s someone who’s going to fight for jobs. Who’s going to fight for the north, who’s going to fight for resource-dependent communities in every corner of this province.”

Former Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan agrees government needs to listen more to rural communities.

“Every region should be able to define its own identity and its priorities.”

“Clone speech” a rude surprise: Wilkinson

A minister under the former BC Liberal government, Wilkinson told the debate that it was a “rude surprise” to him that the party’s most recent throne speech became a “clone speech” with a lot of NDP ideas.

Wilkinson was answering a question from another candidate, former Surrey Mayor and Conservative MP Dianne Watts.

“It was a rude surprise to us to find that we had adopted a lot of ideas from the NDP and the Greens. It became quickly known as the clone speech,” Wilkinson said.  “The throne speech got carried away, I do not think we should have gone down that path.”

“That’s what the bottom line has to be for this party: that we balance the budget because we’re responsible fiscal managers.”

That throne speech was given not long before the Liberal government fell in a confidence vote.

Watts faced questions as well. When asked about a 27 per cent rise in criminal offences while she was Surrey mayor, she defended her record.

“When you look at data, you can skew data any which way. You’ll find, actually, if you look at a number of Criminal Code pieces, they went down and they went down significantly.”

Healthcare 

The opioid crisis barely got a mention in the first Liberal leadership debate in Surrey, but healthcare was a key topic at the Prince George event.

Former Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts says parents need more support as the overdose crisis continues.

“And those are for the young ones, but we look at the data and the data is in the home, popping pills and it’s young men.”

Sam Sullivan, who has made tackling the opioid crisis one of his key platforms, emphasized that it is not a Downtown Eastside problem.

“We need better education and healthcare to deal with the opioid crisis….we need to be more flexible with the way we deliver our health services.”

On mental health, candidate Michael Lee says the healthcare system “silos” need to be broken down.

“The most critical times for young people who are struggling with mental health are before the age of 25, we need to break down those silos and find supports.”

There will be four more debates before the party’s leadership convention in February.