Kelowna-Lake Country MP-desigate jumping right into new challenge

Stephen Fuhr says he plans to hit the ground running but first pays tribute to the man he unseated.

The man who knocked off three-term incumbent Kelowna-Lake Country MP Ron Cannan in Monday’s federal election, realizes he has big shoes to fill.

Stephen Fuhr, who became the first Liberal elected in this area since 1968, paid tribute to his outgoing Conservative counterpart Wednesday, admitting Cannan did a good job representing his constituents for nine Vyears and he intends to follow Cannan’s lead and make them his number one priority as MP.

“Ron is a good guy, he was never the target (of my campaign),” said Fuhr.

Like Liberal candidates across the country, Fuhr made Conservative leader Stephen Harper his target, laying unpopular Conservative government policies over the last nine years directly at the feet of the outgoing prime minister, who has been accused by many of being a control freak for the way he centralized power in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Fuhr acknowleged Cannan’s success in securing federal funding for many projects here and said he will also fight for funding for this area.

In doing so, he hopes to work with re-elected Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola Conservative MP Dan Albas.

“I don’t know Dan all that well, but I expect of all the area MPs, he is likely the one I will be working with the most,” said Fuhr.

The constituencies of both men include parts of the City of Kelowna.

The local Liberal MP-designate said he expects the fact he will be part of a Liberal majority in the House of Commons will help his cause when he goes looking for federal money for Kelowna-Lake Country.

During the campaign, Fuhr said he talked to local municipal leaders about their needs in terms of infrastructure funding but it was more of a “big picture” discussion.

Now he wants to drill down for specifics, so he can hit the ground running when he gets to Ottawa.

The Liberals have said they will run budget deficits for the first three years to finance a $60-billion infrastructure spending program focused on green, social and transportation projects.

Fuhr held the first of those meetings Thursday with Kelowna’s Mayor Colin Basran.

Prior to the meeting, Basran said he intended to tell Fuhr the city’s top priorities remain water, transportation and housing. But he also wants to see the overall issue of infrastructure funding for municipalities addressed.

“We need a funding program that’s reliable, predicable and easy to access,” said the mayor.

But before he can go to bat for municipalities in his riding and the surrounding area, Fuhr will have to set up his own political infrastructure first by opening Ottawa and constituency offices and hiring staff.

Fuhr is expected to be sworn in at the beginning of November.

As for his immediate future, the 47-year-old Fuhr said no offers have been made to him about a cabinet or parliamentary secretary position, but if asked he feels he could contribute most to defence, transportation or veterans’ affairs.

A former Canadian Air Force fighter pilot, Fuhr stood with his party leader—and now prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau—on the campaign trail when Trudeau released his party’s election platform policy on veterans.

Fuhr has been critical of the Conservatives, not only for how they have treated veterans but also for how they handled the plan to replace the aging F-18 fighter planes with newer, unproven the F-35s. The Liberals are expected to scrap the plan to buy F-35s.

Looking back on the campaign, Fuhr said he was proud of how it went, delighted to see it resonate with the public, especially young people who not only voted for him but also volunteered in large numbers on his campaign.

The Fuhr camp had said it needed to not only win support from those who had voted NDP and Green here in the past, he also would have to win over disaffected Conservatives to be successful.

“I haven’t seen (a breakdown) of the numbers yet, but I think we did that,” he said, adding the enormity of what he was able to do here had not quite sunk in yet.

In the election, Fuhr had 46.2 per cent of the vote to Cannan’s 39.8 per cent and won by about 4,100 votes. In 2011, Cannan easily outdistanced his Liberal and NDP rivals, taking more than 50 per cent of the vote.

Just over 72 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots in the riding.