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BC United leader ‘disappointed’ as caucus chair quits, joins Conservatives

Kevin Falcon toured through Cranbrook on Saturday, addressing rural issues as provincial election heats up
B.C. United MLA Tom Shypitka hosted party leader Kevin Falcon and caucus counterpart Peter Milobar in Cranbrook on June 1, as the election campaign unofficially gets underway. Trevor Crawley photo.

While the writ hasn’t dropped, the B.C. election campaign has unofficially begun as B.C. United leader Kevin Falcon stopped in Cranbrook this weekend as part of a listening tour.

During a media availability, Falcon spoke at length on the state of the political landscape and the issues facing British Columbians as voters are set to cast their ballots in October.

Falcon also addressed the defection of B.C. United MLA Lorne Doerkson, the party’s caucus chair elected out of the Cariboo-Chilcotin riding, who crossed the floor to the B.C. Conservative Party on May 31.

“Obviously I’m disappointed in Lorne, but at the end of the day, Lorne made that decision, he’ll have to defend it,” Falcon said. “He’s scared and he’s worried about polls and I understand that, but for us, principles and values are actually really important.

“To have somebody that we’ve heard internally talk about how appalled he is by the B.C. Conservatives’ positions, especially on socially conservative issues, to then walk over and join that party is obviously disappointing, but he’ll have to defend that to his constituents and his community.”

If polls are to be believed, the outcome doesn’t look great for B.C. United.

The latest offering from Angus Reid, published on May 30, has the B.C. NDP ahead at 41 per cent, followed by the B.C. Conservative Party at 30 per cent and BC United at 16 per cent and the B.C. Green Party at 11 per cent among those whose voting intentions have already been decided.

However, polls can be fickle, as Falcon threaded his media availability with themes of building a coalition representing the entire spectrum of interests for British Columbians.

“The NDP under David Eby are too extreme on the left, and the B.C. Conservative Party, which is not connected to the federal party at all, are too extreme on the right,” said Falcon.

“What we need are mainstream common-sense solutions to the problems that British Columbians are facing, and that’s what Tom Shypitka and myself and others in the B.C. United team are going to focus on — results. That’s what we care about.

“And I think frankly, polls and all the pundits and stuff — nonsense. I’ll tell you what people care about, they care about outcomes. They care about results. They care about good, competent people who can get in there and start fixing some of the challenges we face, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Falcon challenged the province’s recent slate of housing legislation, specifically singling out the change to single-family home zonings that now permit the construction of four-plexes.

He also waded into the toxic drug crisis, acknowledging there is a “very fractured system,” particularly for young people who need treatment.

“Our focus is to make sure we have treatment facilities in every region of the province,” Falcon said. “And not just 30-, 60- and 90-day programs, which all the evidence shows doesn’t work well, but free treatment where you can stay for up to a year, and get not only off your addiction, but also be encouraged to relearn some life skills so that when you graduate, you graduate back into the community with a job and a future and some hope and optimism.”

As an urban politician based out of Surrey, Falcon also spent some time talking up rural issues, such as the party’s newly announced plan to address wildlife management, as well as the challenges that rural patients face with accessing specialized health-care services, such as radiation therapy.

Falcon credited Shypitka for leading the way on the party’s wildlife plan, which will earmark $100 million toward revitalizing declining wildlife species populations and habitats, as part of a larger $200 million strategy developed by industry stakeholders to manage B.C.’s natural fish and wildlife resources.

“With this announcement, we will be able to set up that independent agency that is arms-length from government so we can get those funds directly into wildlife and habitat,” Shypitka said.

On the health-care front, Interior Health is in the planning stages of a new building at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital in Cranbrook. Local officials have been campaigning for radiation therapy infrastructure to be included in that new build, which requires specialized radiation vaults or bunkers.

While the province hasn’t yet shut down the radiation therapy proposal, questions remain about how committed the Health Ministry is to the idea, as there are other regions in the radiation therapy queue, such as Burnaby and Nanaimo.

“Adrian Dix has been very clear, he’s not going to go there,” said Falcon, speaking to the potential of radiation therapy services in Cranbrook. “We are way more open to saying that this is exactly what we should be looking at because at the end of the day, we shouldn’t have to be sending our patients elsewhere. Let’s try and get that care delivered here locally.

Geographically, the closest BC Cancer clinic is in Kelowna — a 10-hour drive away, with no direct flights to or from Cranbrook, aside from using Angel Flight East Kootenay, a volunteer medical transport service that offers day flights to Kelowna and back to the East Kootenay.

Alberta, which his much closer to Cranbrook, has all but barred the doors to specialized health-care services for B.C. patients living in border communities.

Falcon also committed to working with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith to re-establish access to Alberta services, noting that B.C. is already sending radiation therapy patients to a facility in Washington State in response to strain the province’s system.

Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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