NDP leader John Horgan, B.C. LIberal leader Christy Clark and B.C. Green leader Andrew Weaver debate in Vancouver Thursday. (News1130)

ELECTION 2017: Christy Clark, John Horgan and Andrew Weaver square off in first debate

Taxes, road tolls hot issues for B.C. Greens, B.C. Liberals, B.C. NDP

Third in a series of Black Press B.C. election coverage leading up to May 9

WATCH: Post-debate press conference

B.C.’s party leaders faced each other for the first time in an election debate Thursday in Vancouver.

B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver met at CITY-TV for the first of two broadcast debates, this one also broadcast on News1130 radio.

READ: B.C. parties square off on schools

Clark and Horgan clashed immediately on their competing plans to reduce and eliminate Medical Services Plan fees. Clark referred to NDP finance critic Carole James’ comment the previous day that the revenue of more than $1 billion a year would be shifted to the “progressive” tax system. Horgan said that does not mean moving the cost onto the income tax system.

Mental health and addictions prompted another sharp exchange, with Horgan repeatedly interrupting Clark.

Weaver agreed with Horgan on the proposal to create a new ministry responsible for mental health and addictions.

Clark defended her proposal to put a $500 annual cap on road tolls paid to use the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridge. Asked by moderator Bill Good why the tolls are being limited just before the May 9 election, Clark said it’s “because we can afford it” due to strong economic performance and controlling expenditures.

READ: What’s up with BC Hydro rates?

Horgan has promised to eliminate tolls, replacing the revenues for three years by using Clark’s “fake prosperity fund” that took increasing MSP revenue and called it liquefied natural gas revenues.

Weaver said road tolls are good public policy and he would keep them in place. He said communities outside Metro Vancouver should also pay tolls as users of major infrastructure projects.

Clark defended her government’s record on creating new child care spaces, promising to fund construction of 4,000 more and predicting that the federal government will fund a similar amount in the coming years.

Horgan called it an “ad hoc” approach, and promoted his plan to create a $10-a-day universal child care system within 10 years.

“You’re not going to deliver it until those kids have their driver’s licence,” Clark replied, warning of the problems encountered when Quebec introduced universal daycare.

There was no discussion of Weaver’s proposal to provide no-cost daycare for children up to two years old, and expand kindergarten to three- and four-year-olds. Weaver is the last party leader to release a costed platform, expected this week.

Good asked each candidate about the pending legalization of marijuana. Clark suggested Horgan plans to side with the B.C. Government Employees’ Union and retail pot through liquor stores. Horgan said he has talked with marijuana dispensary owners, pharmacists and liquor retailers, and said it will “probably be a mix.”

Weaver said Ottawa’s plan to legalize is leaning toward large corporate providers, and he favours “craft cannabis” similar to local beer, as long as there is effective control to prevent minors from buying it.

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