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McIntyre, Stephenson, Buitenhuis clash in Whistler

All candidates meeting draws only 35 people prior to May 12 vote



Less than two weeks to the May 12 provincial election, the three candidates in the West Vancouver-Sea to Sky riding went head-to-head Saturday in their second debate of the campaign.

Whether an offshoot of voter burnout, the Canucks in the playoffs or warm spring weather, only 35 people rolled into Whistler Secondary School to scrutinize Liberal incumbent Joan McIntyre, Green Party candidate Jim Stephenson and NDP challenger Juliana Buitenhuis.

Despite the low turnout, the candidates' attacks remained fierce throughout the hour-and-a-half session. And their different personalities showed as they debated issues like the carbon tax, economic policy, and P3s.

Buitenhuis, who is running for office for the first time while also attending university and working, got placed on the hot seat early on when a community member asked her to explain the NDP's position on the Liberal carbon tax.

"The main issue with the carbon tax was that it wasn't taxing the right people, like farmers and school districts... and big polluters got off easy," said Buitenhuis.

"The NDP plans to instate green bonds. It is a safe investment for the community and will go directly back into green projects."

She added the NDP is encouraging cap-and-trade programs, referring to a system where the government sets a limit on emissions permitted, while allowing firms to trade permits.

To this, McIntyre retorted: "First of all, the school districts get a 100 per cent rebate on the carbon levy."

McIntyre then pointed out the Liberals passed the Greenhouse Gas Reduction (Cap and Trade) Act last year, even though NDP leader Carole James voted against it.

Another animated exchange came several questions later when community member Nick Davies asked Stephenson how the Green Party was going to pay for all of its policies.

Stephenson, who holds two PhDs from Stanford and was a former professor at UBC and SFU, said that unlike the "mainstream" parties, the Green Party doesn't have the resources to fully cost its platform.

But he said in the face of the economic downturn, the Green Party is advocating investment in infrastructure in the short term while ensuring that spending is offset in later years.

"We want to make to make both the economy and the environment sustainable for future generations," said Stephenson.

McIntyre - who stressed the Liberal's track record throughout the debate - did not let that issue rest.

"I think to go before the taxpayer, you need to have a fully costed platform," she said, before delving into how the Liberal party plans to get out of the current deficit by 2011-12. She also pointed to flaws in the NDP plan, saying it has a "$4 billion hole."