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Westside-Kelowna MLA throws his support behind Falcon

Westside-Kelowna MLA  Ben Stewart (left) and B.C. Liberal leadership candidate Kevin Falcon greet party members and supporters at Quail’s Gate Winery earlier this week. - Mike Simmons/Capital News
Westside-Kelowna MLA Ben Stewart (left) and B.C. Liberal leadership candidate Kevin Falcon greet party members and supporters at Quail’s Gate Winery earlier this week.
— image credit: Mike Simmons/Capital News

As Okanagan MLAs choose their horses for the B.C. Liberal leadership race and a shot at the premier’s job, Westside-Kelowna MLA Ben Stewart is throwing his support behind Kevin Falcon.

Stewart said he feels there are some excellent candidates in the running, and he would be happy to work with any one of them if they win the leadership.

But he said he put a great deal of thought into the decision of who to support.

Stewart pointed to Falcon’s record of managing expectations and dealing with limited resources during his time as a B.C. cabinet minister in Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government.

The owner of a local winery, Stewart noted Falcon’s support of deregulation for businesses.

The local MLA characterized Falcon as the first B.C. Minister of Health to get people’s expectations in line with the limited resources available.

He pointed out the economy needs to be built up, and the province is trying to do more with less.

Stewart is currently the agriculture minister and as such he said he is aware of missed opportunities that need to be pursued.

And, while he acknowledged other Okanagan MLAs have chosen to support Shuswap MLA candidate George Abbott, he said his decison to support Falcon is nothing personal.

He said he and Abbott are close friends, but his decision was not about friendship, but rather the best leadership for the party.

Stewart added he did not see Falcon trying to suggest the province can support every person or every potential project.

Falcon, one of the front runners in the race with Abott and former cabinet minister turned radio talk show host Christy Clark, said one of his proudest moments in public life was the announcement of the construction of the William Bennett Bridge.

“This really is a Renaissance time for the Okanagan,” said Falcon.

The Surrey MLA said he knows Stewart went through an intensive process to decide which candidate to support, and added he felt as though he was being interviewed for a job.

He noted that in the provincial health care system, large numbers of people are there due to two or more chronic diseases.

He pointed to the potential to decrease the cost of public health by encouraging healthier lifestyles.

“You get excellent care in B.C., there’s no doubt about that.”

But he said the province needs to examine health prevention in addition to health care.

Falcon also wants the province to do more to lower the cost of generic drugs.

“We need to negotiate a new deal with pharmacies,” he said during Stewart’s anouncement at his Quail’s Gate Winery.

Falcon said an agreement that will not be fully implemented until 2013, will save taxpayers more than $380 million.

“That’s how you start to bend the cost curve of health care.”

Falcon pointed out the savings made up in the health ministry could be used to lower costs, or to help in other ministries.

He also pointed to another candidate’s idea as one to be considered.

Moira Stillwell, theformer regional economic and skills develoment minister, has suggested the province could allow the student loan system to benefit from the government’s triple A credit rating to deliver student loans at the lowest possible rates.

He said he also supports the creation of a master teacher designation to recognize exceptional teachers, and have them instruct others to bring them up to a standard of excellence.

“We all know those teachers are out there.”

Falcon has been criticized by the B.C. Teachers Federation for suggesting there should be additonal “merit” pay for some teachers.

The selection of the next Liberal party leader, who will automatically become the next premier of B.C., will take place Feb. 26.

B.C. Liberal Party members will vote by phone and over the internet in what is expected to be a weighted vote.

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