BC Liberal leadership hopeful Kevin Falcon visited Fort St. John on Sunday, shoring up his support in the north while positioning himself as the best bet to beat the NDP in the south come the next provincial election.
Falcon is a former MLA for Surrey-Cloverdale and a cabinet minister who oversaw the deregulation, transportation, health, and finance ministries while in office from 2001 to 2013. He didn’t run in 2013 nor in the party’s 2018 leadership race while raising a family, but says now his public and private sector success give the Liberals the most credible chance to win power in 2024 as the free enterprise alternative to the NDP.
“The biggest obligation we have to northerners is to make sure that we elect a leader that can actually have a credible chance of getting elected into government. That means we have to retain our support in the north but we have to have a candidate that can win in the south,” said Falcon.
“We got thumped pretty bad in the last election and I looked around at the likely leadership candidates and although I felt they had all good attributes and brought a lot to the table I didn’t think any of them would have that combination of skill sets necessary to be able to actually win government, and get us back into government.”
Party members will elect their new leader in February, with five others in the race including Skeena MLA Ellis Ross, Vancouver MLA Michael Lee, Kelowna MLA Renee Merrifield, former BC Chamber of Commerce CEO Val Litwin, and Vancouver entrepreneur Gavin Dew.
Falcon has picked up key endorsements in the region from South Peace MLA Mike Bernier and Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman, who say Falcon has the experience and expertise to tackle the province’s immediate and future challenges while cultivating the next generation of their party.
“There’s quite a few of the six candidates that have impressed me but I also acknowledge the fact that you need to understand what your job is, and we need to go into this next phase of our province and recovering from COVID in a very strong way. I know Kevin has those strengths,” said Ackerman. "While I love to see a new generation moving in, they need to move in and still have someone that you trust leading the way that’s got that expertise, and that knowledge.”
Bernier said he drew on the lessons learned from his own brief leadership bid in 2017, and gave careful thought about who could win in all corners of the province.
“Kevin is the only one I feel that can actually win the seats that we need to win, not just the ones we already have,” he said. “He understands how big and diverse British Columbia is, that you can’t use a cookie cutter approach, and that we have to be flexible with policies.”
Falcon was first spurred to run for office in the 1990s when the NDP were governing B.C., which he said ran “possibly the worst government I can recall in my lifetime in the 10 years they were in power.” Falcon sees parallels with the NDP of today.
“What I’m seeing is exactly the kind of thing I saw in the 1990s: the raising of taxes, adding more regulation and red tape, a government-knows-best attitude, whether it’s for autism funding or managing our natural resource sector. I’m seeing decisions being made without proper consultations in forestry and now, more recently, in the oil and gas space, where they’re talking about revisiting the royalty system again without any credible discussions with industry,” said Falcon.
“All of this will have devastating impacts for the economy and for the future of the natural resource sector in British Columbia,” he said. “I will fight like hell to make sure that we get them out of there before they can do the kind of damage they did in the 1990s.”
Critics and pundits have been quick to note Falcon’s "political baggage" in the leadership race due to his ties to past Liberal governments under Christy Clark and Gordon Campbell. Falcon is equally quick to dismiss the claims as “NDP narrative,” and said he’s happy to celebrate his record in office.
“Let’s talk about it shall we: is it the fact we took us from the highest tax jurisdiction to the lowest tax jurisdiction in North America? Is the fact we went from the worst economy to the best economy? Is it the fact we invested in record amounts of infrastructure in every part of this province? Is it the fact that we hosted one of the greatest Winter Olympics in the history of this country?” Falcon said.
“I will put that baggage up against any government record, any time, any place, anywhere. I’m proud of what we did in government. We didn’t get everything right because no government does, and we have to have the humility to acknowledge where we made mistakes and move on. But we got the big things right, and I will put that record up against the NDP’s record in government. Even in the four-and-a-half years they’ve been there, it’s been a disaster.”
Falcon said diversity is key to his campaign and his party's future, noting his senior campaign organizers include people of Arab, Chinese, and South Asian descent.
"If we want our party to be more diverse, to attract more women, to attract more young people, then we better make sure that we have a leader and the kind of policies that are going to resonate and touch a lot of those constituencies," Falcon said.
"The only way we’re going to form government is if we get more people coming and saying, 'That’s leadership I can get behind, those are policies that I can support', whether it's on the environment, whether it's affordable childcare, whether it's low taxes, and encouraging an economy of less red tape and the growth of small business."
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