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Liberals on campaign trail

Kevin Falcon stopped by the Billy Miner pub on Wednesday. About a 1,000 local members of the party can vote in Saturday’s leadership contest.  - Colleen Flanagan/The News
Kevin Falcon stopped by the Billy Miner pub on Wednesday. About a 1,000 local members of the party can vote in Saturday’s leadership contest.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/The News

Christy Clark on Saturday, Kevin Falcon on Wednesday, Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows voters are being wooed even without an election as the B.C. Liberal leadership contest enters its last stretch. And despite recent gains by rivals, Clark supporter Sandy Wakeling, a Pitt Meadows party member and event organizer, still likes the poll numbers. “The polls are looking good. Our numbers have stayed pretty solid over the last few weeks and we’re confident going into things that we’ve got a good shot at this.” After Clark stopped at the Maple Ridge Golf Course Saturday, Falcon dropped by the Billy Miner Pub on Wednesday. He told supporters, which included municipal politicians, he’s got the money, membership and momentum heading into Saturday’s leadership vote. Falcon has raised the most money of all candidates, $708,665, and says he signed up 20,000 members. “If you want to lead a group of people, it’s really helpful if somebody wants to follow you,” he said, noting he now has support of 19 Liberal MLAs and 11 cabinet ministers. The party’s strength lies in its role as a coalition that attracts Conservatives and Liberals and will keep the NDP out of power. He said the health-care system can be made sustainable by trimming costs, and finding efficiencies, with a growing economy funding the growing health-care budget. He said up to $150 million a year can be saved by combining purchasing and communications departments in B.C.’s five health regions. A new deal for generic drugs will reduce costs by 35 per cent, he added. Falcon said he’s never seen feelings in B.C. change so quickly, when it comes to the popularity of the Liberal party and the easing of anger towards the Harmonized Sales Tax, and said the latter has a chance of surviving the September referendum. “I have always had great faith in the public, if you give them information, they’ll make the right decision.” He still wants to reduce the 12 per cent tax by one per cent by 2012, then another one per cent, when finances permit. The FightHST recall campaign “is going to fail in spectacular fashion,” he said. “I can’t believe that the NDP and left-wing groups are going to continue trying it. The whole world has changed and they haven’t figured it out.” Liberals choose their leader, and the next premier, this Saturday at the Vancouver Centre although most of the voting will be done online or over the phone. In the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows riding, Wakeling says about 1,000 members can vote for the contest. In Maple Ridge-Mission, more than 2,000 are signed up. The leadership contest has divided the party among the former cabinet ministers in Gordon Campbell’s government who want to stay the course, and those outside the government who want to see change, Wakeling said. Based on a last-minute appearance by Clark last week at Maple Ridge Golf Course, which drew 75 people, “I think things are looking really good.” And just because a particular candidate signs up members doesn’t mean they’ll vote for that candidate. “People aren’t going to follow their leaders.” It would be a mistake to think that those signed up by MLA Marc Dalton will support Kevin Falcon, Wakeling added. He hoped when people vote, that they’ll think about which candidate has the greatest chance of winning the next election. He said Falcon may not be able to attract non-Liberal votes as well as Clark in a general election. He said a recent poll of party members showed that she’s the favourite with 43 support. Among the general public, she’s the clear favourite, with more than 60 per cent support, according to an Ipso Reid survey last week, he said. Dalton said he supports Falcon because he’s been effective in his cabinet portfolios. “As a health minister, he’s done an excellent job.” But Dalton said the contest was “too close to call.” Dalton agreed the front runners are Clark and Falcon, and that George Abbott is also creeping up. Mike de Jong is the fourth candidate in the race, which ends Saturday a few minutes after 5 p.m., when voting results are expected to be quickly counted.

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