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AND FRANKLY: Kevin Falcon faces enormous challenge in winning back much of Surrey

The last few years have not been kind to the once-dominant BC Liberals

Winning back Surrey and North Delta seats will be an important priority for the new leader of the BC Liberal Party, Kevin Falcon.

The former Surrey-Cloverdale MLA won the party leadership on the fifth ballot Saturday night, edging out six contenders. Falcon, who lost a 2011 bid for the leadership to Christy Clark, has been out of politics for nine years.

The last few years have not been kind to the once-dominant BC Liberals, who as recently as 2017 held six of the nine Surrey seats and both Delta seats.

Currently, the party holds just Surrey-White Rock, Surrey South and Delta South. The other seven seats in this area are held by the NDP.

Sixteen years in government left the BC Liberals with plenty of baggage. In this part of the province, that included delays in funding new schools and health facilities, and bridge tolls on the new Port Mann Bridge.

There was a strong feeling in many Surrey homes that issues here did not resonate with the government – despite the fact that there were Surrey voices at the cabinet table.

The NDP fielded a new leader in the 2017 election in the person of John Horgan, who campaigned on making life more affordable. Notably, he promised to get rid of tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges, the only tolled bridges in B.C.

He also campaigned on eliminating MSP premiums, which the BC Liberals had raised far beyond the rate of inflation in order to balance the budget, and dealing with soaring ICBC rates.

In the 2017 election, the NDP added Surrey-Guildford, Surrey-Panorama and Surrey-Fleetwood to the three seats they had held since 2005. The party also won Delta North.

In the 2020 election, they also took Falcon’s old riding of Surrey-Cloverdale. Along with the rest of Surrey, it had been a stronghold for the former coalition government and Social Credit (with the notable exception of 1960-63) since 1945. The BC Liberals had held it since 1991.

Falcon recognizes the enormity of the challenge and took note of the direction the party needs to go in his victory speech Saturday. He of course has to get elected to a seat in the legislature, but has also pledged to change the party name and recruit a younger generation of diverse candidates.

One likely candidate will be former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts, who was co-chair of Falcon’s campaign. She could prove a popular vote-getter, given her success during nine years as mayor. He also says he wants to address the challenges of making housing more available and affordable for first-time buyers. This is a key concern in this area and much of the Lower Mainland. Falcon has been executive vice-president for Anthem Properties, so is very familiar with the challenges. The NDP government is also promising more action on this front, with legislation expected in the fall.

The NDP are already training their attack guns on Falcon’s record during his 12 years in government, in a variety of cabinet posts. This is to be expected. However, Falcon did accomplish a fair bit and certainly held a number of important positions from 2001 to 2013.

Whether the voters of Surrey and Delta have moved away from the BC Liberals more permanently remains to be seen. The party, whatever its name, will have to focus on economic and social issues, remember that this is the fastest-growing area of the province, and give people who are stuck in COVID limbo and beset by inflation some solid reasons to switch their votes.

It will be a big task.

Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Peace Arch News and at Email