The top two candidates vying to become Vancouver mayor sparred in a heated debate Wednesday over who would be the best to ultimately deliver a cross-city subway corridor to the University of British Columbia.
Mayor Gregor Robertson, campaigning for a third term in the November 15 vote, was repeatedly put on the spot by four rivals on everything from the economy to transparency. His main rival, Kirk LaPointe, representing the Non-Partisan Association, suggested Mr. Robertson had nothing to show for six years of commitments on the transit project, despite deeming it a priority.
"I could grab your pen and do a sketch on paper and that's as far as we have gone," said Mr. LaPointe, who has claimed in the past that Mr. Robertson has failed to build consensus with the province and federal government required for the subway corridor project.
But Mr. Robertson said regional mayors have come around to supporting the plan, which could cost as much as $2-billion.
"I am a huge champion for transit in the region," declared Mr. Robertson. He suggested Mr. La Pointe, a former editor at The Vancouver Sun and a career journalist who is making his first run at elected office, lacked the experience to handle the file.
The 90-minute debate began in the shadow of the Parliament Hill attack with a moment of silence. It quickly became a lively exchange where the audience of 300, largely students with a sprinkling of partisans, cheered at jabs and groaned at evasions
Meena Wong of the Coalition of Progressive Electors, Independents Bob Kasting, a lawyer, and restaurant operator Colin Shandler also participated in the debate.
Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason moderated the debate, which saw the candidates addressing such issues as the economy, housing, homelessness, government transparency and transit, then debating them in exchanges with each other.
In a section on government transparency, Mr. Robertson noted he had to deal with the lack of information on financial issues at the 2010 Winter Olympic village when he came to power in 2008, succeeding an NPA mayor.
He said there's always room for more transparency, but the city has done its best on the issue through such measures as publishing councillor expenses.
It created an opening for Mr. LaPointe to tout his oft-stated commitment to create the "most open government in the country" through such measures as the creation of an office of an independent ombudsman to review complaints from members of the public who feel they have been poorly treated by the city.
In one of the most interesting sections of the debate, Mr. LaPointe claimed that, unlike Mr. Robertson, he had visited a tent city at Oppenheimer Park in the Downtown Eastside, which went up in July to protest against homelessness, but was cleared last week due to a court order. Mr. Robertson did not dispute his rival.
The NPA candidate said that the protesters he spoke to were not looking for a quick fix but rather some sign of momentum.
"You're pretending you can end street homelessness by 2015," Mr. LaPointe told Mr. Robertson, referring to a key goal of Mr. Robertson. "You've got to be kidding."
Both Mr. Robertson and Mr. Lapointe, questioned by the panel, declined to release a list of donors for their campaigns. Mr. Robertson said Vision was operating within the rules. Mr. LaPointe said the NPA would open the books if Vision did.
During questioning from a panel, Mr. Kasting rejected the suggestion he was running only to raise his profile and help his law firm. "I don't need any more work," he quipped.
On Wednesday afternoon, five of the candidates for mayor of Vancouver debated civic issues in an event co-presented by The Globe and Mail, Langara College and the Langara Students' Union. The participating candidates were Bob Kasting (Independent), Kirk LaPointe (Non-Partisan Association), incumbent Gregor Robertson (Vision Vancouver), Colin Shandler (Independent), Meena Wong (Coalition of Progressive Electors). Globe and Mail national affairs columnist Gary Mason moderated the debate.