Mayor Gregor Robertson fenced hard with the three people competing for his job in November, vigorously defending his party's record on homelessness, building bike lanes and opposing the proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline.
But the Vision Vancouver mayor didn't have an answer when he was prodded at the four-candidate debate Sunday about what his party might have promised to a major city union in exchange for $102,000 in campaign donations.
Non-Partisan association candidate and main rival Kirk LaPointe asked whether the mayor was "proud" that Councillor Geoff Meggs appeared at a meeting of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1004 recently to say the mayor has recommitted to no additional contracting out in the city. This occurred just prior to the union making decisions on campaign donations to several parties.
Mr. LaPointe said Vision had "tied the hands of the city in the next round of bargaining" with the outside workers, whose contract is due to expire in December of 2015.
In response, Mr. Robertson, during the debate and in a scrum afterward, would not acknowledge that the party has a long-standing commitment to maintaining the contracting out of city services at current levels, even though Mr. Meggs has said it does. (The city has had a policy for decades of splitting work between private contractors and union employees, so the debate is about additional contracting out.)
Instead, to boos and demands to answer the question from the audience of about 450, he said Mr. Meggs was not his representative and he tried to go on the attack against the NPA and its lack of details and transparency about its platform.
Pressed again, he said Vision has developed a respectful, positive relationship with unions that helped the city avoid the kind of messy garbage strike it saw under previous NPA mayor Sam Sullivan.
And questioned by reporters after the debate, he said his party has made no "iron-clad commitments" on contracting out and said Vision has had support from unions in every election.
The tussle over campaign financing was just one heated moment in the lively debate, which saw Mr. LaPointe, COPE candidate Meena Wong and independent Bob Kasting largely focus on attacking Mr. Robertson. His party has been in control of council since 2008.
Ms. Wong and Mr. Kasting went after the mayor and his party particularly for ties to developers, who have contributed handsomely to the party in the past.
Mr. Kasting, taking a jab during the debate on the union donation, said, "It's pretty clear from the record what you've offered to the union. What we don't know is what you've offered to the developers who get favours from you."
Mr. LaPointe, whose party also gets money from developers, took a slightly different tack, instead accusing Vision Vancouver of being the most secretive government in the country.
Mr. Robertson got his most enthusiastic applause when he said he was going to fight to protect Vancouver from an expansion of the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline and more oil tankers in the harbour.
He said there was too big a threat to the city's 30,000 tourism jobs if there were ever an oil spill in the harbour. "I will stand up and fight that threat."
He also said that he is not going to stop trying to end street homelessness. To more boos from the audience, he insisted he hasn't failed yet in his promise to end it by 2015, since it's only October.
But, he added as he was being grilled by Mr. LaPointe on what he'll do next when he doesn't achieve his goal, "I'm not a quitter. You might quit. I will not quit."
Mr. LaPointe got his own boos from the audience when he refused to commit to dismantling the Point Grey bike route, saying it needs to be studied to see how the public feels about it, now that it's built, and what the cost of taking it apart would be.