B.C. Liberal leadership hopeful Kevin Falcon boasted about signing up nearly 18,000 new members to the party.
That places the Surrey-Cloverdale MLA second in the running for premier, according to fellow candidate Christy Clark.
Falcon paid a Wednesday visit to the Comox Valley to speak with Liberal supporters about issues of greatest importance to British Columbians. Topping his list is a strong economy, which is vital to support health care and education.
“Our members feel very strongly that we need leadership that understands how important it is that we continue to have a strong, growing economy in British Columbia,” Falcon told reporters before addressing a crowd of about 25 supporters at Crown Isle.
While rebounding from one of the worst economic times throughout the world, Falcon said B.C. has managed to maintain an unemployment rate of less than eight per cent and an AAA credit rating.
“I think we’ve actually done very well in the province. We have a very good foundation for the future, and that’s what excites me about our province.”
While making the rounds, Falcon has been surprised by the small number of questions regarding the harmonized sales tax, and by the inquiring nature of the questions, which he said have not been angry in tone.
“I’m surprised how dramatically the landscape has shifted with respect to that policy.”
Falcon said tuition fees are in the middle range compared to the rest of Canada, a situation he feels is better than the late-’80s when he was attending university. Back then, when the NDP imposed a tuition freeze, Falcon had a difficult time accessing classes.
“It was very difficult because they froze tuition but they didn’t give the universities additional dollars to create the spaces we needed to hire the professors.”
While he admits tuition fees are still a problem, Falcon thinks, “What we have in place right now is balanced.”
He likes Moira Stilwell’s proposal that government helps student debt load by using the triple-A credit rating to ensure graduates pay the lowest possible interest rate on loans.
Stilwell — Liberal MLA for the Vancouver-Langara riding — is among Falcon’s competition for premier. Also in the running are Shuswap MLA/former education minister George Abbott, Abbotsford-West MLA/former attorney general Mike de Jong, former Parksville mayor Ed Mayne and Clark, the former deputy premier-turned radio talk show host.
Falcon said there are “six good candidates for premier” who are “building an army of supporters” that will help ensure the B.C. Liberals win the next provincial election in 2013. He said the party has signed 50,000 new members since Premier Gordon Campbell announced he would resign from his post.
Falcon’s backers say they’ve signed upwards of 17,500 members, the de Jong campaign is claiming more than 10,000 while Clark’s camp say they have signed 20,000 to 26,000 people.
“This (leadership race) has been the greatest thing that’s happened to our party,” Falcon said.
During his decade in B.C. politics, Falcon has served as health minister, transportation minister and as minister of state for deregulation.
He supports a weighted vote system where each of B.C.’s 85 ridings will be awarded 100 points in the leadership vote. The idea is to give every riding an equal say on the new leader. Delegates to Saturday’s party convention will vote on adopting a new system.
The B.C. Liberal leadership vote is Feb. 26.