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Farnworth says jobs, health services key for rural areas

B.C. NDP leadership candidate Mike Farnworth speaks to reporter Kim Magi at the Castlegar News office on Monday afternoon.

Mike Farnworth, one of five B.C. NDP leadership hopefuls, made a stop in Castlegar this week to convene with members in the Kootenays.

“I’m out meeting members and talking to them about what they’re concerned about, and hopefully they’ll vote for me on the 17th of April,” he said.

On Sunday night, Farnworth met with Castlegar residents at Nealy O’Brien’s Pub, where he said the biggest issues on people's minds were health care and transportation.

“The fact that there’s only one bus in the morning to Trail and one bus back at night isn’t exactly the most user-friendly system,” he said.

Farnworth also said he wants to overcome the disconnect citizens in rural B.C. often feel.

“[Rural B.C. has] the industries which help build this province and I think there’s a sense that they’ve been neglected,” he said. “Whether it’s the land base in terms of forestry, or mining, I think we need to recognize they’re going to be important to the future, and we need to put in place policies that are going to help them on a sustainable basis.”

He added people are tired of the “top-down approach” that B.C. has seen for too long.

“We need to get back to doing things that work which is working with communities, working with regions, to put in place solutions that work in that particular location, that region,” he said. “For example, the Columbia Basin Trust, which has worked really well here and I think there are things you can do to make it even better. Some of that resource money, the hydro wealth, that is generated here stays here.”

Farnworth said he wants to implement an “aggressive rural economic development strategy” which would see the government working with communities to identify ways to improve the local economy and entice people to move to the area.

“Sometimes it’s within infrastructure. Sometimes it’s not infrastructure — it’s through changing government policy … A lot of times it’s just linking communities together collectively they can do something together that individually they can’t,” he said. “And marketing themselves as a group, and it doesn’t cost a lot of money but the impact can be significant.”

Marketing rural B.C. is important too, he said.

“You can have a very nice life in small-town B.C. and you don’t have to spend, in the case of the lower mainland, I think the average price for a house is over $600,000, and if you’re in the Burnaby area it’s $800,000 and $1.2 million in east Vancouver. That’s just not affordable for people. And it’s like, you know what? There are lots of parts of B.C. which are wonderful places to live and raise a family which are very affordable. And part of that is making sure you’ve got the services there that people need.”

This, he said, includes providing jobs for people and making sure there are adequate health services.

“[People] need jobs,” he said. “If there aren’t any jobs, people aren’t going to stay. At the same time, if there’s issues around health care and lack of services, people aren’t going to stay. And I think that’s an issue the province has got to address.”

But Farnworth said his ideas won’t be implemented until he’s premier.

“That’s the only way you’re going to be able to make any changes is to win the next election and that’s what I’m doing, I’m not running to be the leader of the opposition,” he said. “Now I know that I would be, but my goal is to win the next election.”

He said one of the reasons he decided to run for leader is because he feels he can unite the NDP again.

“I’m open to new ideas, I’m open to working with people to try and common ground and find solutions that can work for the majority, so that’s the approach I like to take.”

Farnworth added he thinks party endorsements are extremely important.

“Certainly I think they send a message to members of the party that the people you’re working with believe in you – I think that says something,” he said. “When you look at the Liberal race, you see Mike de Jong – many people thought he would be one of the frontrunners, and the fact that not a single MLA is supporting him, people would go, ‘well why is that? You’ve been working with these people for years and when you’re going for the top job no one is supporting you?’ That raises questions. When it’s the people you work with — they’re the ones that know you best. So in that sense, it’s important to the members.”

Farnworth, the MLA for Port Coquitlam, isn’t new to politics. He first got involved in 1983 at the age of 24 when he was elected to Port Coquitlam’s city council. He has been a part of provincial politics since 1991.

Currently, he is the opposition critic for public safety and solicitor general.

After his visit in Castlegar, Farnworth planned to visit Nelson, Creston and Cranbrook.

He is the first provincial NDP leadership candidate to visit Castlegar.

The NDP leadership vote is on April 17.