COLUMN: Surrey needs strong voice

Will Kevin Falcon be B.C.'s 35th premier, and the fourth one with strong connections to Surrey? We'll know Saturday night.

If he does win, he will be the second premier to represent a Surrey riding. John Oliver, premier from 1918 to 1927, was MLA for Delta, which included all the area from Richmond to Langley. He had lived in Surrey before establishing a successful farm in east Delta. Bill Vander Zalm, a former Surrey mayor, was premier from 1986 to 1991, but represented Richmond in the legislature in those years. He had been MLA for Surrey from 1975 to 1983. Rita Johnston succeeded Vander Zalm as premier for a portion of 1991.She was MLA for Surrey-Newton.

Falcon and his supporters are going all out to get BC Liberal party members to vote on Saturday. They have all day to do so (between 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.) and will do so by telephone or computer.

Chances are, most of the 95,000 or so Liberals will be voting, particularly those who joined the party in recent months.

Falcon spent much of Wednesday meeting with party members in small groups. He also planned a large rally on Thursday at the Cloverdale Fairgrounds, in his home constituency, and a large crowd was expected to put the finishing touches on the campaign.

It was interesting to hear some of his observations on Wednesday morning, after almost three months of campaigning for the premier's job.

Falcon said the leadership race has rejuvenated the Liberal party, not only by attracting new members, but also by the process. Candidates have been meeting with people in all corners of the province, in large and small gatherings, and hearing about policy ideas.

They have been doing far more listening than has been customary in recent years. And many people have shown a willingness to engage in the process, which is a welcome change from the disinterest evident in the last provincial election, when just 50 per cent of eligible voters took part.

He has been particularly impressed by the level of interest in areas where he didn't expect it. A group of young professionals in Vancouver staged a leadership debate – and 1,000 people, all in their 20s and 30s, came out. Many young people do want to be part of the political process.

A supporter of his insisted on staging a fundraiser in Prince Rupert, which has been an NDP stronghold for most of the past 40 years. Falcon suggested that they do a coffee shop meeting with interested people, but his supporter insisted on a full-blown fundraising event. 

In Prince Rupert, population about 12,000, 250 people showed up.

Part of this was because many people there appreciate Falcon's work as minister of transportation in reviving the port, and opening it up to more container business. But another part of it was the leadership race is genuinely engaging the public.

Getting back to Falcon's roots in Surrey, I believe he could make a difference in how this area is perceived, province-wide, should he be successful on Saturday.

Surrey is the fastest-growng area of B.C. The need for government services, particularly in the areas of health and education, far outstrip the resources that are available.

But Surrey people do more than just whine about the challenges they face. Many of them do something about it. That's why the Surrey Memorial Hospital Foundation has kicked off a $10 million campaign to raise funds for the new outpatient and surgery centre at Green Timbers – a campaign that began Monday with Jim Pattison writing a $5 million cheque to get the ball rolling. The new facility will bear his name as well, thanks to his generosity.

"It's time we have a person from the Fraser Valley in the premier's office," Falcon said Wednesday.

There is no doubt that having a local perspective on the challenges that face Surrey and other parts of the fast-growing Fraser Valley will be of enormous value. That decision is now up to BC Liberal party members.

We will know how they have made their minds up on Saturday night. Many BC Liberals in Surrey, Delta and White Rock will cast their votes for Falcon, and put their hopes on him gaining enough first and second choices to win.

Frank Bucholtz writes Fridays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

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