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‘Downer’ meets ‘cheerleader’

Gregor Robertson, Kirk LaPointe have first debate
Vision Vancouver mayoral incumbent candidate Gregor Robertson traded blows with rival NPA candidate Kirk LaPointe over transit and homelessness during a debate at Langara College Wednesday. Photo Dan Toulgoet

It happened 20 minutes into their first-ever debate and it was over fairly quickly: Mayor Gregor Robertson and NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe finally traded verbal blows in the run-up to the Nov. 15 election.

Neither candidate came away politically bruised but the exchange gave about 300 spectators at Langara College a taste of the party leaders’ disparate views and ability to engage in a battle of words.

Robertson, standing to LaPointe’s right at a lectern in a cafeteria, triggered the tilt after he accused the NPA leader of not doing his homework on the route of a proposed subway along the Broadway corridor.

“You don’t have the experience to lead the ship,” said Robertson, claiming LaPointe didn’t know a subway line would begin at the VCC-Clark station and not the Broadway-Commercial Drive transit hub.

“You’re not doing your job as mayor to get a deal done,” shot back LaPointe, referring to the mayor not securing funding for a subway from senior levels of government, despite his six years in office.

LaPointe went on to say Robertson’s efforts to get a subway amounted simply to what the NPA leader could sketch out on a napkin.

Robertson countered with how he has “advocated vigorously” for transit since he was elected in 2008 and worked with mayors in the region to develop a 10-year transit plan, which includes a $1.9 billion subway. He characterized LaPointe as being “a downer” on the subway plan.

LaPointe replied: “The question is: ‘Do you want a cheerleader, or a leader?”

The pair was prevented from continuing to spar because the debate also featured COPE mayoral candidate Meena Wong and independents Bob Kasting and Colin Shandler.

The format limited Robertson and LaPointe to one exchange, with both leaders staying largely on message when asked to give their views on affordability, the economy and homelessness.

Robertson reiterated his party’s plan to build more rental housing, promote “green” jobs and continue to work with the provincial government to get social housing open before the end of the year.

LaPointe outlined the NPA’s plan to attract more high paying jobs in sectors such as liquefied natural gas and to work with senior levels of government to offer tax credits to encourage developers to build rental housing.

He said he was “embarrassed” by Robertson’s promise to find homes by 2015 for all people living on the street. A homeless count in March revealed more than 500 people was without shelter or a home.

“You’re pretending you can end street homelessness by 2015, you must be kidding — you’re certainly kidding the people down there,” said LaPointe, referring to the homeless people recently camped at Oppenheimer Park.

Robertson said he was proud of the progress he made on his goal to end street homelessness, pointing out the provincial government’s commitment on this front will have added 600 social housing units by year’s end since the homeless count.

Wong used most of her time at the microphone to promote her campaign for a living wage, implement a $15 minimum wage, stop “renovictions” and create a $30-a-month transit pass. She pointed out she was the only woman among the mayoral candidates.

“I want to be the bridge, bringing communities together, bring newcomer communities together in Vancouver,” said Wong, noting she is fluent in Cantonese and Mandarin.

Kasting, a lawyer involved in lawsuits against the city, said the biggest issue in the campaign is affordable housing but he didn’t provide a strategy on how to provide cheaper housing for residents.

Kasting delivered one of the best quips of the debate, getting big applause when a panelist was about to ask him a question and referred to LaPointe and Robertson being on the left side of the stage.

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

Shandler, a chef and restaurateur, said it was his first debate and he was there for the people of Vancouver and that he had “more questions for you than answers.”

Shandler said the advantage of being an independent allowed him to take the best ideas from all the candidates and mix it together. He called for a slow down to the city’s rapid growth, using a cooking metaphor to make his point.

“Anything on high boil will simmer out,” he said. “We need to turn it down, season it a little bit, give it a stir.”

A Justason Market Intelligence online survey released this week showed Robertson leading the mayoral race by 46 per cent, LaPointe at 32 per cent and Wong at 16 per cent. The category identified as “other” had six per cent of support from decided voters.

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