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Robertson, Anton go on the attack

Vancouver mayoral candidates spar at Chinatown debate

Mayor Gregor Robertson pledged Vision Vancouver's 2011 election campaign will not include attack advertising, but that didn't stop him from taking shots at Coun. Suzanne Anton, his NPA challenger, during a Sunday debate in Chinatown.

"You can tell the difference from the advertising, the NPA has been running negative attack advertising for many weeks," Robertson said at the SUCCESS Social Service Centre. "Vision will not go to negative attack ads. We're committed to staying positive."

The NPA launched its advertising campaign Sept. 12 by skewering Vision's "backyard chickens and frontyard wheat fields," referring to the majority party's urban farming initiatives. Robertson and Anton didn't go head-to-head on poultry or grain, but they sparred before 60 people over city hall's handling of the Stanley Cup riot, the Occupy Vancouver tent village and openness. "We kept our promises," Robertson said. "In contrast, the NPA has made huge mistakes in the City of Vancouver from a three-month garbage strike [in 2007] to a secret, billion-dollar Olympic village deal [in 2008] that we are still trying to recover from."

Anton defended NPA council candidate Jason Lamarche for his 2007 date-rating blog that was revealed last week. She reminded Robertson of his 2007 fine for failing to buy a two-zone SkyTrain ticket and Vision Vancouver Coun. Tim Stevenson's 2007 drunk-driving conviction. "They're going after a young guy who wanted a date?" Anton said. "Excuse me, let's stick to the important issues."

Robertson accused Anton of opposing Vision's affordable housing and emergency homeless shelter programs and said she changed her positions on the B.C. Place Stadium casino proposal, bike lanes and civic homeless action plan. "Given this terrible record of leadership, flip-flops and voting against priorities in Vancouver, how can anyone have confidence that Suzanne Anton and the NPA will provide clear and consistent leadership as Vision Vancouver has done?" Robertson asked.

Anton denied Robertson's statement and shot back with her own accusations of flip-flopping. "He deplored shelters and he wanted housing, now everybody is in a shelter and that's great, but where is the housing?" she said. "Gregor ran on transparency_ he will not even tell us what the Olympic Village is costing. Is it $100 million, is it $200 million, is it $300 million? How much have the taxpayers lost?"

Robertson defended the decision by Happy Planet Foods, the juice company he co-founded, to shut its Vancouver office last February after 15 years. Workers were relocated to Burnaby and Richmond. "Like many companies when we grow fast we need to move our operations and maximize our chance of success," he said. "In the manufacturing business it's important to have the right kind of space."

Robertson called it a "smart business decision" and claimed he has had no direct involvement in the company since 2004. After the meeting, Robertson told the Courier he holds "less than 10 per cent of the shares," but declined to estimate the value of his investment. He said he receives no dividends. "My income is just as mayor," he said.

Robertson was noncommittal when asked if he tried to persuade Happy Planet's Burnaby-headquartered majority owner Earth's Own Food Company to stay in the City of Vancouver.