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2020 B.C. Leaders debate will likely focus on COVID-19 pandemic, economy

FILE - (From left) BC NDP Leader John Horgan, BC Liberal Leader Leader Andrew Wilkinson, and BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau (CityNews)
Summary

NDP Leader John Horgan, Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson, and Green Leader Sonia Furstenau will debate Tuesday

The debate may be the first time many British Columbians get tuned in to what the parties are pitching: experts

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Due to COVID-19 there’s been no door-knocking, hand-shaking, or town hall meetings during the provincial election campaign, and political scientists predict the first and only leaders debate will also be dominated by discussion of the pandemic.

NDP Leader John Horgan, Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson, and Green Leader Sonia Furstenau are scheduled to square off — at a safe social distance — Tuesday evening at 6:30.

The debate may be the first time many British Columbians get tuned in to what the parties are pitching, according to Hamish Telford, a political scientist at the University of the Fraser Valley.

“The debates are often the time that most people key in to an election. Given that we’re having an election in a pandemic when people are preoccupied with very serious issues – their health, their jobs, the well-being of their family, and their children in school — I rather suspect that a lot of people have not been paying attention to this election, particularly since the parties can’t campaign in the normal kind of way,” he says.

“If people are going to tune in it will be tomorrow night, but it’s still unknown how many will. The pandemic is the issue that has framed this entire election and that is going to be the focus tomorrow night.”

He adds Horgan will likely feel the pressure from the other party leaders, and will likely be confronted with questions about calling a snap election in the first place.

“I think the other leaders are going to focus very much on the pandemic and John Horgan’s handling of it. I expect the Green Party to challenge John Horgan on his trustworthiness. He broke the governing agreement with them, he kind of ignored the Fixed Date Election Act. [Furstenau] will say that he can’t be trusted on the environment, and he can’t be trusted with his major policies,” Telford says.

“Andrew Wilkinson I think will focus very much on the economy, saying that we are in a crisis and an emergency here and what the NDP has offered to date has not been sufficient to keep businesses afloat.”

And when it comes to Horgan’s response to other leaders’ questions, Telford adds the BC NDP leader will need to keep his composure.

“John Horgan is going to have to fend off the different lines of attack without looking angry or losing his cool. The opposition leaders are going to come at John Horgan very hard. He has a tendency to bristle a little bit when he’s under  attack and he’s going to have to do his utmost to be restrained. In particular, in response to Sonia Furstenau. It won’t look good if he yells at her.”

RELATED: B.C.’s party leaders face off in televised debate Tuesday

Megan Dias is a political researcher with the University of Texas, she says the debate is a chance for Andrew Wilkinson and Sonia Furstenau to show their colours as leaders of their respective parties.

“For the other two leaders this is their first election, this is their first leaders debate in this context. They’re both going to have to show who they are, show what they’re about and they will also have to pitch that they will handle things better,” she says.

“Debates can have sort of a defining moment for the election, or debates can just be a way to get voters to pay attention to the election, and especially in this type of election where things have largely been online, where it’s a campaign like we’ve never seen before. I think it is going to be really important for the leaders to get voters’ attention and to get their message out really clearly.”

Tuesday’s debate comes on the heels of a rowdy debate in the U.S. with President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden squaring off against each other, often interrupting and yelling over each other. The moderator struggled to to regain control.

Dias says she doesn’t think that will be an issue come Tuesday night.

“I don’t think it will be anything like what we’ve seen in some of the U.S. debates. I think that [British Columbians] want to see a civilized debate, they want to see a debate where leaders are giving a really clear vision of what they’re about,” she says.

You can catch the debate starting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday on our website, on Citytv, as well as on OMNI Television.

You can also find all the election-related news you need in the lead up to election day on our B.C. Votes 2020 page.