Paul Forseth acknowledges that winning in New Westminster, as a B.C. Conservative, is going to be tough, especially when you factor in history.
The NDP – and the CCF since 1963 – have won the riding in every provincial election since 1953 except once, when Joyce Murray won it for the Liberals in 2001.
In the last provincial election, NDP candidate Dawn Black won the riding by more than 5,000 votes.
While there is no incumbent this time around, Mr. Forseth will have to beat out Judy Darcy, a high-profile NDP candidate who served as national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Canada’s largest union, for 12 years. Hector Bremner, a local entrepreneur, is running for the Liberals.
“It’s going to be a long shot,” said the 66-year-old Mr. Forseth. “But I’m a firm believer that in the long run, the best governance comes from conservative values.”
Mr. Forseth says this is a crucial moment for the conservative voice in British Columbia – the reason why he chose to run, he says, is to provide people with a real alternative to the NDP at a time when the Liberal Party appears to be losing support. He says a Conservative presence in Victoria is vital.
Mr. Forseth is a well-known figure in New Westminster. He has lived in the city his entire life, and represented area ridings on Parliament Hill for more than 12 years, first with the Reform Party from 1993 to 2000, then as a member of the Canadian Alliance from 2000 to 2003. He served two more years for the Conservative Party from 2004 to 2006.
He has also worked in the criminal justice system, including as a family justice counsellor, probation and parole officer, and youth court officer.
Mr. Forseth says New Westminster is changing, no longer just home to the “typical union-driven mill worker.”
“It’s becoming a much more diverse community … some have pointed out that the demographics are changing and we need to continue to promote conservative values,” he said.
Conservative values, Mr. Forseth says, have a lot to do with how government approaches the economy. He says the provincial government needs to use a pay-as-you-go model more frequently for government services; loosen the rules on how private companies are allowed to provide health care; and create an environment that will lead to private-sector growth.
He admits that’s a hard sell.
“It’s a lot harder to build a case in the community and get community support in saying the government can’t solve everything, by throwing more money at a problem,” he said.
Mr. Forseth says if he’s elected, he will be a conservative voice in the legislature for people to rally behind.
Locally, he says one of the biggest concerns is traffic in New Westminster.
The city is being overrun with with motorists from neighbouring areas, he says, using it as a bypass route via the Pattullo Bridge – linking Surrey to New Westminster – but not stopping in the city and contributing to the local economy. The bridge is in desperate need of reconstruction, but Mr. Forseth says some residents would rather see no bridge at all.
“But I believe I have to provide leadership in the community to say, ‘Yes, the Pattullo Bridge must be replaced … and it would not be in the economic interests of our community to take the bridge down and not put anything back in its place,” he said.
He says people in the community are also ardent defenders of Royal Columbian Hospital and the services it provides.
But Mr. Forseth is quick to point out that conservative values will also be at the centre of how he tackles local issues.
“The Liberal candidate, the NDP candidate, they’re going to try and outbid each other – ‘We’re going to spend this, we’re going to spend that.’ Once this election campaign is over, those things are largely out the door,” he said. “The fiscal reality is the truth, and the reality limits the capability of any government to impose its particular agenda. So I’m quite prepared as a Conservative to highlight those fiscal realities.”