VANCOUVER — It wasn't long before Liberal Leader Christy Clark put her hand on the arm of her main rival, John Horgan, and told him to calm down during Thursday's first debate of the B.C. election campaign.
The New Democrat leader's icy response: "Don't touch me again, please."
The exchange captured the sometimes chippy tone of the 90-minute live debate as Horgan interrupted and spoke over Clark every time she picked apart the NDP platform. It was a departure from the positive, take-the-high-road approach adopted by Horgan's predecessor in the last election, which the New Democrats lost despite a large lead in the polls at the campaign's outset.
A more restrained and smiling Clark stuck to a similar refrain by emphasizing her party's jobs-first platform and warning that the health of the provincial economy would be jeopardized under the leadership of another party.
"In these last four years British Columbia's really gone on a roll," Clark told listeners of News 1130 in Vancouver, which also livestreamed the debate online and broadcast it on City television. "We're just getting started and we don't want to end that."
Horgan accused the Liberal leader of governing in the interest of corporations, high earners and those "in the first-class lounge." He also said she is falsely claiming the NDP hasn't accounted for how it will pay for its platform promises.
"Whenever she gets in the corner she makes stuff up. This is why British Columbians have no confidence in the B.C. Liberals," Horgan said.
"Mr. Horgan, we didn't make up five balanced budgets," Clark replied.
Horgan said the NDP platform is based on the financial figures in the government's spring budget.
The Liberals have said the New Democrats' plan is too costly. The NDP is promising to bring in $10-a-day child care and eliminate tolls on two busy bridges in Metro Vancouver, but the party says a new tax on housing speculators and raising taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations will help balance the budget.
Clark chided the NDP's intention to roll out its affordable child-care program over 10 years.
"You're not going to deliver it until most kids have their driver's licences," she said.
Andrew Weaver of the B.C. Green party resorted to holding up his hand to get the attention of the moderator, and when he did it was mostly to criticize Clark's record.
"We've had 16 years of mean-spirited policies that have put corporate donors and those who have ahead of those who do not have," Weaver said when asked about housing costs.
Weaver condemned the Liberals for pushing forward with Site C, a hydroelectric megaproject in northeast B.C., as well as the government's promise of revenue from the liquefied natural gas industry, which has yet to develop.
"Trying to squeeze water from a stone doesn't work, even if you squeeze it harder. And that is the Liberal approach," he said.
The next debate in the May 9 election is Wednesday night.
Weaver described the confrontations in Thursday's debate between Clark and Horgan as petty, saying afterwards the people of British Columbia deserve better.
Clark accused her opponents of supporting policies that would bring B.C. back the economic stagnation of the 1990s, when the New Democrats were in power.
Asked about Clark touching his arm after the debate, Horgan suggested there is a double-standard.
"What would the response have been if I had laid my hand on the premier?" Horgan responded. "That's all I've got to say about that."
Clark later said she didn't mean to offend Horgan, describing him as a colleague.
"I'm a little bit surprised he took it that way," Clark said. "It certainly wasn't how it was intended."
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