BC Liberal leadership candidates square off in their final debate, Jan. 23, 2018. (Facebook)

B.C. Liberal leadership candidates get one last prime-time pitch

Leadership campaign to be decided in Feb. 3 vote

The six candidates vying for the leadership of the B.C. Liberal Party made their final public push for party member support Tuesday evening in a prime-time TV debate.

Abbotsford West MLA Mike de Jong, Vancouver-Langara MLA Michael Lee, Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone, Vancouver-False Creek MLA Sam Sullivan, former Surrey mayor and MP Dianne Watts and Vancouver-Quilchena MLA Andrew Wilkinson are vying for the support of 60,000 party members. Half of those members have been signed up since former premier Christy Clark resigned in the wake of the B.C. Liberal government’s defeat last summer.

RELATED: B.C. Liberal hopefuls lay out their platforms

As in previous leadership debates, Watts was under fire from the start. De Jong zeroed in on her campaign platform, which pledged that the province would stop taking revenue from Crown corporations.

Watts acknowledged that the B.C. Liberal government had already stopped taking revenue from ICBC, but de Jong pointed out that the province takes $2.2 billion a year from B.C. Lottery Corp. and the Liquor Distribution Branch. The NDP would deal harshly with a leader who makes “a $2.2 billion mistake” in a platform, he said.

Wilkinson asked Watts to describe five steps that need to be taken by a new leader in the first days of a spring session, which begins with an NDP throne speech and budget in February. He then provided the list after Watts replied with generalities.

Wilkinson also attacked Lee, a rookie MLA who has been touted as signing up many new members. Wilkinson asked where Lee was when he and other veterans were fighting the last six election campaigns.

Stone continued to pitch himself as the youngest candidate, member of a new generation of entrepreneurs with a history of involvement with the party that began in his teens.

Sullivan continued his provocative policy suggestions, offering privatization of health care to go with the re-introduction of the Harmonized Sales Tax.

Stone challenged Lee, a Vancouver lawyer, to offer policy that helps the B.C. Interior and the north. Lee said he has worked with resource companies, and chided de Jong for not using a smartphone or email.

There were several chippy segments in the final debate before members vote for a new leader Feb. 1-3. Stone and Wilkinson clashed over their experience in the B.C. Interior, where Stone grew up and Wilkinson spent his early years and later worked as a physician.

The candidates were united in condemning the NDP’s preparations for a referendum on proportional representation. Wilkinson proposed that the B.C. Liberals should take their first $1 million in public subsidy under the NDP government’s financing system and dedicate it to defeating the referendum next fall.

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