Suzanne Anton and Andrew Wilkinson have a lot in common. Both are lawyers, both are longtime members of the B.C. Liberal Party, both are hoping to represent the Vancouver-Quilchena riding in the upcoming May election and both, apparently, are morning people.
The two Liberal nominees appeared at a private 7:30 a.m. debate at the swanky Arbutus Club today (Jan. 25) to plead their cases before roughly 100 party members as to why they would make the best replacement for former finance minister and deputy premier Colin Hansen, who announced last summer he would not be seeking reelection.
As the party’s riding president Liz McPhee pointed out to hearty laughter before the question and answer session began, nomination battles are a comparatively rare event in Vancouver-Quilchena, a longtime Liberal stronghold.
Hansen, who won a landslide 70 per cent of votes in the 2009 election, has held his seat since 1996 after replacing former premier Gordon Campbell, who took over nearby Vancouver-Point Grey the same year.
The tone of the debate was decidedly less acrimonious than those between presumed frontrunner Anton and Mayor Gregor Robertson when the two-time city councillor ran as the NPA mayoral candidate in the 2011 municipal election, and neither candidate offered dramatically different policies from the usual party line.
The two nominees, however, differed on their stances on perhaps the biggest issue of the day for British Columbians: the proposed Enbridge pipeline in northern B.C.
“Number one in my mind is we need to get world price for Canadian oil,” said Anton. “Right now in this province it is about $30 a barrel and that amounts to about three million dollars an hour lost to the Canadian economy by not getting to the world market. The premier has laid down five conditions that I think are very sensible ones. Three of them relate to environmental issues and that is a no-brainer. Secondly, and I actually think that is going to be the thorniest issue, is we have to have First Nation partnerships onside or it will never happen and they need to see a benefit from it. Thirdly, British Columbia needs to see a financial benefit from it. I think if those conditions are met, there is nothing wrong with the pipeline being built.”
Wilkinson believes it’s too early to say.
“There is an old line in the courts that bad facts lead to bad precedents and this is a good example,” said the Rhodes scholar. “The Enbridge Gateway pipeline has ended up being a poster child for polarized, politicized assessment projects… We cannot have project evaluation based on a shouting match. We have this process that is underway before the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel, federal and provincial, that needs to go though its course. We need to see the report and we, as a community, need to kick around that report and get feedback from our politicians.”
The two also offered different takes on the possibility of legalizing or decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana as neighbouring Washington State did in November.
“I think there is no question there are major shifts and it is inevitable that change will be coming,” said Anton, a former crown prosecutor. “I’m guessing that sometime in the next 10 years it will be more like cigarettes and alcohol and there will be some sort of system like that. We’ve been for so long tied by having to defer to the American legal system. When that deference is no longer needed, I think our system will change and I suspect it will happen fairly quickly.”
Wilkinson, a former president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said he could support a model similar to what they have in Amsterdam where pot is available in controlled environments but has concerns about teens acquiring it more easily and that the revenue from taxing it won’t be as high as expected.
“What do you do about kids who go to smoke up marijuana on the school yard and then go back to the classroom stoned? How do you assess their ability to drive? To me these are real questions that need to be answered in a thoughtful way... If we were to say, ‘It is OK to have less than a kilo of marijuana’ and then tax it, then low and behold people would just grow it in their basements and evade taxes. This is not an issue where we can easily flip the switch and say legal or not legal.”
The nomination vote is Feb. 17 at Prince of Wales secondary. Neither the NDP nor the Green party has announced candidates for Vancouver-Quilchena.