The 2013 provincial election campaign has yet to begin officially, but party leaders are already in a pointed argument over a proposed debate a week before voters go to the polls.
On Tuesday, Premier Christy Clark disclosed to her caucus and members of the media that Global TV had invited her and NDP Leader Adrian Dix to a one-on-one town-hall debate on May 6.
Ms. Clark said she hoped Mr. Dix would attend the 90-minute event. But within an hour, Mr. Dix rejected the idea, saying it would unfairly exclude other leaders, such as John Cummins of the B.C. Conservatives and Jane Sterk of the B.C. Greens.
The Liberals have been looking for ways to catch up with the NDP, which had major leads in all recent polls. Ms. Clark seized on the town hall as a strong option.
"If people get to see the two of us together, they can make a judgment. I can't predict what that judgment is going to be, but people can, at least, make an honest assessment about where we stand and who we are," she said during a break in the caucus meeting.
Ms. Clark said she accepted the town hall proposal on Tuesday without conditions. "I said, 'Dear Global. We accept. Sincerely. Christy Clark,'" the Premier said. "I'm going to be there, and I hope I am not the only one."
Although Mr. Dix has outlined some policy views, and on Tuesday proposed deeper tax breaks for film and TV production, Ms. Clark said no one knows what he stands for. "I feel like I am running against perfection. When we get into the debate, I'll be able to run against another candidate, and that candidate will be Adrian Dix. I like my odds better running against Adrian Dix than running against perfection."
Asked if the arrangements of the town hall were fair to Mr. Cummins and Ms. Sterk, Ms. Clark said that only she and Mr. Dix were likely to win, so the program would be a chance for voters to compare them.
The town hall debate was supposed to co-exist with a more traditional debates on television and radio. A spokesman for Global News would not comment on how Tuesday's events would affect its election-coverage plans.
In an interview, Nick Poirier said he could not say whether the town hall was still an option in light of Mr. Dix's decision not to attend.
Lindsey Meredith, a marketing professor at Simon Fraser University, said the town hall as proposed offered an advantage to Ms. Clark and nothing but downside for Mr. Dix.
In the event that Ms. Clark manoeuvred Mr. Dix into participating, Prof. Meredith said the B.C. Liberal leader need only score a few good points to have a chance of gaining on the NDP leader, ranked in the polls as more popular with voters than Ms. Clark on the issues.
He said Mr. Dix's call for a four-way debate was a shrewd parry. Prof. Meredith said Ms. Clark and her team likely knew that option would make the Premier the target of three critics.
Within a few hours of Ms. Clark's initial comments, B.C. Liberals had issued a release headlined, "Dix Ducks Townhall Debate," quoting Vancouver-Fairview candidate Margaret MacDiarmid repeating many of Ms. Clark's arguments.
Prof. Meredith said that was inevitable. "I would expect to see the Liberals pound the hell out of this. Why not? If I were in their shoes, I'd make the play."