British Columbia

B.C. leaders get personal during election debate 2017

The B.C. election debate may have been an opportunity for the three party leaders to discuss their platforms, but it also gave them a chance to point out their opponents' weaknesses and attack their personal character.

John Horgan and Andrew Weaver had the feistiest exchanges, says former strategist

The B.C. election debate took place in Vancouver on April 26, 2017. (B.C. Broadcast Consortium)

The B.C. election debate may have been an opportunity for the three party leaders to discuss their platforms, but it also gave them a chance to point out their opponents' weaknesses and attack their personal characters. 

At the centre of those attacks, woven throughout the debate, was the question established in past weeks around the temper of self-described "mercurial Irishman" B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan.

"Are you going to lose your temper on me now Mr. Horgan, because you did last week," said B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver, apparently referring to Horgan's response to when Christy Clark touched his arm during another debate.

B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark also made a passing remark on the issue.

There were several testy exchanges between B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan (right) and B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver during the debate. (CBC)

Clark emphasized the need for a leader who can control their temper, particularly when dealing with U.S. President Donald Trump and his protectionist policies on issues like softwood lumber.

"What B.C. is going to need is a leader who is tough, but who is calm and is considered," Clark said during the debate. 

When moderator Jennifer Burke specifically asked Horgan if he had anger management issues, he defended his passion for the matters at stake during the election.

"I'm an Irish descendant, I'm passionate," he said. 

"When I see a government that ignores children in care to the point that they take their own lives, I get angry." The B.C. Liberals have been criticized over the high-profile deaths of some children in care.

'Quick with a smile and a promise'

But Horgan wasn't the only leader subject to personal attacks. As the leader of the governing Liberals, Christy Clark also took some heat. 

"How should anyone believe you now?" Horgan asked her. "Just before an election you're always quick with a smile and a promise, but you don't deliver."

Horgan also called Clark out for prioritizing homeowners over renters, claiming she treats the latter as "second-class citizens" and calling her attitude towards them "patronizing." 

B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark, (left), NDP Leader John Horgan (right) and Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver (centre) meet before the final leaders' debate of the 2017 provincial election campaign on Apr. 26, 2017. (B.C. Broadcast Consortium)

But Horgan's harshest criticism of Clark came during the section on education, when he criticized her record on the matter.

"You can't apologize for anything, can you? You will never take responsibility," he said. 

Weaver wasn't subject to much in the way of personal attacks, but Horgan did take a jab at Weaver's apparent attempts to set himself apart from the political establishment. 

"You don't look like a different politician to me Andrew, you look like all the rest of the politicians," Horgan said. 

B.C. Election Debate 2017

6 years ago
Duration 2:40
B.C. Liberal leader Clark and NDP leader Horgan debate education investment.

No value to attacks: UBC prof

Former Liberal strategist Alise Mills said Clark's approach seemed to involve standing aside as Weaver and Horgan duked it out over much of the debate.

"The premier smartly stepped out of the testosterone-filled room and just let them have at it. And I think that's a great sign of her experience," Mills said. 

Instead, Mills said Clark chose to focus on her message about B.C.'s strong economy, despite ongoing criticism from Horgan and Weaver on her claims. 

UBC political science professor David Moscrop said, overall, personal attacks weren't as prominent during this debate as they can get during a federal election. 

"I don't think they're all that effective. It often comes off as mean-spirited," Moscrop said.

"It doesn't really add much value."

He said of all the candidates, Clark seemed to deliver the fewest jabs — but he pointed out that she has the least need to, as the leader of the well-established governing party.