The so-called battle between two NDP heavyweights vying to lead the provincial party in the Vancouver-Fairview riding was hardly one that left a winner standing in the candidates’ only debate Monday night.
Geoff Meggs and George Heyman spent most of the hour-and-a-half expanding on each other’s answers and agreeing on policy direction concerning a carbon tax (they both support it), affordable housing (use provincial and city land to build more of it) and the economy (more green jobs and green buildings).
They also agreed the minimum wage should be indexed to the rate of inflation but differed on whether personal income tax should be raised for British Columbians. While Meggs said raising taxes “is something that should be in the tool chest,” Heyman said he supports tax increases, especially for people who earn a good living.
“Raising taxes on people who make over $100,000 a year should be a no-brainer,” he told a largely older crowd of about 125 people at the Holiday Inn on Broadway.
The candidates responded to written questions from audience members posed by a moderator. There were no rebuttals or open exchanges between Meggs and Heyman, who stood behind separate lecterns.
What initially appeared to be another difference in their platforms was on the question of whether marijuana should be legalized. Meggs reiterated the position taken earlier this year by his fellow city councillors who called for the drug to be taxed and regulated.
“It needs a systematic approach but I do not believe it should be simply open for free sale,” he said. “I believe it should be regulated and that’s going to require action from the federal level.”
Heyman noted many former and current politicians have pointed out the policing costs and violence associated to the illegal sale of marijuana, which fuels a huge underground economy.
“The answer is legalization of marijuana which nobody to my mind has given any evidence that it is more harmful than alcohol,” said Heyman, who added later that it should be regulated.
Meggs is serving his second term as a city councillor with Vision Vancouver, the ruling party at city hall. Heyman is the executive director of the Sierra Club of B.C. and former president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union.
Both men relied on their backgrounds to explain their answers. For example, Meggs referred to the city’s efforts to get more affordable housing built for young families, seniors and low-income people.
Heyman referred to his work in the environmental sector, saying the country’s oil and gas companies are responsible for about 30 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada but only provide less than one per cent of jobs.
“We can stop cutting trees at 40 years and start cutting them at 80 years so they grow bigger and they store more carbon,” he said. “We can add value and make better products out of those older trees.”
Many in political circles believe both candidates could be cabinet material, if the NDP wins government in May 2013.At one point during the evening, Heyman joked about having he and Meggs represent the riding that is currently held by Liberal MLA Margaret MacDiarmid.
Prior to the debate, Meggs told the Courier he won’t seek an NDP nomination in another riding if he loses the Vancouver-Fairview race. Heyman said he hasn’t ruled out the prospect, adding “I never say never.”
The nomination meeting goes this Sunday at the Holiday Inn.