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Robertson and LaPointe duke it out at mayoral candidates' debate

From left to right: Candidates Gregor Robertson, Kirk LaPointe, Colin Shandler, Meena Wong and Bob Kasting. Photo by Jennifer Oehler / Langara College

“You don’t have the experience to lead the ship,” Mayor Gregor Robertson told his NPA rival, Kirk LaPointe.

Twenty minutes into yesterday’s mayoral debate organized by the Langara Foundation and Langara's Communications & Marketing department, leading candidates Gregor Roberson and Kirk LaPointe directly faced off against each other for the first time. And it was Mayor Robertson who delivered the first hit.

In a two-minute one-on-one debate on transit, Robertson accused LaPointe of getting his facts wrong about the proposed Broadway subway line.

“I think it is important for people to understand that you’re not doing your homework on the basic plan for rapid transit in this region,” he said right before calling LaPointe on his inexperience as a politician.

LaPointe retaliated by accusing the mayor of not doing his job. The proposed line is no more than a sketch in a piece of paper, he said. And when Robertson accused him of being “a downer” in the wake of next spring’s referendum over a new 10-year transit plan that includes the Broadway subway, LaPointe fired back:

“The question is: Do you want a cheerleader or a leader?” he asked the audience, earning a big round of applause.

Incumbent mayor Robertson and candidate Kirk LaPointe got into a heated interchange of ideas during one-on-one debates. Photo by Jennifer Oehler/ Langara College

The one-on-one argument between the two leading candidates was one of the few highlights of an otherwise lacklustre debate.

Candidates Robertson, LaPointe, COPE’s Meena Wong, and independents Colin Shandler and Bob Kasting presented their proposals on economic development, transit, affordable housing, transparency and homelessness for an hour and a half at Langara College’s main campus. But the format, which included one-minute speeches by the candidates, two-minute one-on-one debates and questions by a panel, didn’t allow for meaningful discussions between the candidates.

Vision’s Robertson, NPA’s LaPointe and Wong, the three main candidates for the November 15 election, chose to work the same proposals they’ve honed since the start of the mayoral race.

Incumbent mayor Robertson highlighted the successes of his six years in office -- including his efforts to materialize the Broadway subway line and to mitigate the city’s homelessness problem -- and also took the time to depict LaPointe as an inexperienced candidate undeserving of being chosen his successor.

LaPointe centered his strategy on calling attention to Robertson’s tenure’s shortcomings. After calling Vision’s government “the most secretive one” in Canada, he promised that his first law would require routine disclosure of government information.

He then went on to offer the creation of an ombudsperson position. The former journalist also committed himself to working with other levels of government in order to create a new tax credit for rental housing investments.

COPE's candidate Meena Wong (centre) proposes to raise the minimum wage and to establish a 30-dollar monthly bus pass. Photo by Jennifer Oehler / Langara College

Wong, during her speeches, also went after Robertson.

“Only the rich and mayor's friends -- the real state developers -- can make a good living in our city now,” she said during her opening remarks.

Then, after pointing out that the living wage in Vancouver is 20 dollars and 10 cents (9.85 dollars over the minimum wage), she proposed to elevate the minimum wage for all city employees and contractors to 15 dollars an hour. She also repeated her promise of establishing a 30-dollar monthly unlimited bus pass for adult citizens.

One of the independent candidates, lawyer Bob Kasting, added colour to the debate with well-timed witty remarks. When one of the panelists pointed out that he didn’t have the big budget Robertson and LaPointe have to run his campaign and noted that the two were at the left side of the stage, Kasting said:

“I don’t think they consider themselves to be on the left side of anything.” 

Finally, indie candidate Colin Shandler, a chef and the owner of The Tipper (a restaurant located on Kingsway), shared his personal experiences with homelessness and explained how he can use his practical knowledge as an entrepreneur to provide a breath of fresh air into City Hall. He highlighted the negative effects of a sudden increase of minimum wage on businesses like his own. 

The evening concluded with one-minute remarks by every candidate. Robertson stressed the need to “keep the momentum the city has on crucial issues” and highlighted how the current council is “willing to stand up to proposals for oil tankers in [Vancouver’s] harbour which are not being countered by the NPA.” LaPointe used his final remarks to once more stress  Robertson’s tenure’s shortcomings and absence at the previous mayoral debate.

The next debate will take place next Sunday at Christ Church Cathedral.


Full disclosure: Kirk LaPointe was this reporter's professor at UBC’s Graduate School of Journalism

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