As the clock ticks down to this weekend’s vote in which provincial Liberals choose B.C.’s next leader, local contender Kevin Falcon remains focused on the roots of his support, and what the priorities will be, should he win.
In a series of small meetings with select groups of key supporters in the constituency Wednesday – including some 30 local movers and shakers who gathered for lunch at the Rotary Field House in South Surrey – the Ocean Park resident offered a low-key, among-friends warmup to the next evening’s planned rally at Cloverdale Fairgrounds.
But the Surrey-Cloverdale MLA did offer one prediction for Saturday – that his campaign, which already has the backing of 19 colleagues, including 11 senior cabinet ministers, would receive a groundswell of support from B.C.’s north.
Falcon told the South Surrey group that was why he journeyed to Prince George the day he announced his BC Liberal leadership campaign at the end of November – to let people in the centre and north of B.C. know he was a leadership candidate familiar with – and willing to set foot in – every part of the province.
“That sent a really important message,” the former health minister and transportation minister said. “That’s one of the reasons you’re going to see I’m really going to dominate in the north when the results come out on Saturday.”
He said he had also told his supporters at the outset that a leadership campaign was all about “membership, money and momentum.”
“You want to peak right before the election,” he said.
His campaign has been successful on all three counts, he said, noting it had signed up some 19,900 new members at final count and had raised more than $700,000.
That money wasn’t just for his own war chest, he said, adding that funds raised meant “dollars are available to fight the next election.”
Talking about momentum, Falcon said the campaign had received “a real shot in the arm” from the endorsement of Health Minister Colin Hansen, a BC Liberal veteran who has the credibility of being a member since 1969. Falcon said he was also happy that, no matter the result, the leadership campaign had resulted in a “rejuvenation of the party.”
He noted the BC Liberals are a “coalition party” and said he had been gratified by support from both federal Liberals and Conservatives, and others of different affiliations, who are, he said, unified on the provincial level in the belief “there should never be another NDP government in B.C.”
In an interview with Peace Arch News Friday, Falcon said his top five priorities as premier would include building B.C.’s economy; building Asia-Pacific trade; investment in health, particularly in the south of the Fraser region; investment in education; and a law-enforcement policy that targets smaller as well as bigger crimes.
But his first top priority at the end of the campaign trail – no matter what the outcome – lies at home, an admittedly weary Falcon said.
“After being on the road travelling, I’m looking forward to spending time with my wife, Jessica, and our baby, Josephine,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m still a guy who has to clean out the gutters and mow the lawn.”
Falcon said he feels the most important thing for him to focus his attention on, as premier, would be “growing the economy.”
“It’s what will produce the kind of revenue to support the social services we want and need, such as education and health care.”
Part of that focus will continue to be opening up opportunities for Asia-Pacific trade, Falcon said.
“With our diverse population we have built a cultural bridge, and I think we can continue to build on that,” he said.
His home constituency would not get lost in the larger picture, Falcon vowed.
“As a premier from Surrey, part of my attention will be on making sure the south of the Fraser area gets the kind of attention it deserves,” he said.
He noted Surrey will be receiving a close to $1 billion investment in health care over the next couple of years, including the soon-to-be-opened $240 million Jim Pattison outpatient facility, and also a more than $600 million acute care tower at Surrey Memorial Hospital.
“Signing of off on that was the last thing I did as health minister,” he said.
Adding that there was “no shortage of things we need to address in health,” Falcon said he was still convinced that focusing on positive outcomes is the key.
Part of this, he said, would be a process of education to encourage individuals to “make healthier decisions,” about their lifestyles.
“Education is a great passion of mine,” he added, noting that in investing in B.C.’s educational system he would like to recognize “the most important part is the teacher in front of the classroom.”
He also emphasized that law enforcement and crime prevention would also be a huge priority, particularly in fast growing areas such as his home turf in Surrey.
Falcon said he would like to see a crackdown on metal theft that would curb the loss of tens of millions of dollars each year in pilfered metals, partly through closer scrutiny of “dealers that are buying obviously stolen materials.”
But Falcon said he was also looking at the possibility of setting up an integrated task force to police high crime neighborhoods which could set its sights on such street level problems as drug dealing. prostitution and “aggressive panhandling.”
“People have a right to live in a community where they feel safe,” he said, adding that a focus on smaller crimes could also target youth gangs.
“If we can have a dedicated traffic enforcement unit, why can we not have a dedicated law enforcement unit?” he said.