Horgan apologizes for ‘inappropriate’ answer to debate question on white privilege
NDP Leader John Horgan, Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson and Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau squared off Tuesday evening for the campaign’s first and only leaders’ debate.
The trio mostly stuck to their talking points and there was little in the way of a slam dunk moment. Moderator Shachi Kurl ran a tight ship, directing the leaders to stay on topic and make room for their opponents’ answers.
The most notable responses of the night followed a question that asked the leaders to explain how they have “personally reckoned” with their own “privilege and unconscious bias as a white political leader.”
Wilkinson got the first crack at an answer, offering up his experience working in “Indigenous communities in Dease Lake, Lillooet [and] Campbell River,” where he “got to know their way of life.” After sharing an anecdote about delivering a baby boy in Lillooet who was named after him, Wilkinson said, “That’s the kind of experience that humanizes it for you and makes you realize we are all equal.”
Horgan recounted his time as a lacrosse player on Vancouver Island. “I played with Indigenous friends, played with South Asian friends,” he said. “For me, I did not see colour — I felt that everyone around me was the same.”
Following the debate, Horgan walked back that comment, telling reporters it was “inappropriate” for him to say he does not see skin colour and said, “I don’t have a clue, as a white person, the challenges that people of colour face every day.”
Furstenau shared her reaction as a parent. “I can’t imagine being a mother and imagining that my child, my son might die because of the colour of his skin,” she said. “The three of us cannot reckon what that’s like because we are white, but we have to, in our roles, work to end that systemic racism.”
Horgan extols success of Green-NDP alliance, Wilkinson describes his ‘life of struggling’
All three faced at least one personalized set of tough questions from Kurl.
For Horgan, it was why voters should trust him following his decision to ditch the governing agreement with the Greens and proceed with an election “at a time when British Columbians need their political leaders to be focused on governing.”
Horgan highlighted the NDP’s co-operation with the Greens “to do a whole bunch of very extraordinary things in a short period of time” and reupped his suggestion that calling the election was actually a way to “put the politics and the election behind us.”
Wilkinson was called to answer for his previous characterization of renting as “a wacky time of life” and domestic violence as a “tough marriage.” Asked if those remarks prove he is out of touch with British Columbians, Wilkinson held up his “life of struggling” as an immigrant to Canada.
For Furstenau, it was how she plans to pay for her party’s promise to bring in free early childhood education for three- and four-year-olds. Furstenau did not directly answer but held up the party’s commitment to “put over $100 million” into child care spaces in public schools.
‘You sold the land, man’
Horgan and Wilkinson also traded barbs on health care, taxes and the snap election.
“You sold the land, man,” was Horgan’s response to Wilkinson’s claim that the NDP “have built no hospitals at all” three years after forming government.
Horgan went after the Liberals’ record on cutting services to pay for tax cuts in 2001, saying “you fired 10,000 people, largely women, to give a tax break to the wealthiest people in B.C.” and recommended that Wilkinson read the new book by former Liberal cabinet minister George Abbott on the subject.
“Calling names and talking about things that happened 17 years ago will not help us get into the future,” Wilkinson replied.
Furstenau adopted a more restrained approach to responding to her opponents.
When Horgan touted “collaboration” and consultation on how best to reform policies around old-growth logging — saying “I believe we can continue to do that in the future” — Furstenau dryly interjected, “I believe we could be doing that right now, actually — we didn’t need to be in this election.”
Both Wilkinson and Furstenau hammered Horgan on his decision to call the snap election. For his part, Horgan maintained that he “grappled” with the decision before deciding “it’s never a bad idea to ask British Columbians where they want to go and who they want to lead.”