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Minister of Health Kevin Falcon announces his bid for the leadership of the BC Liberals in Surrey, BC on Nov. 30, 2010.Simon Hayter

As a rookie B.C. premier, Kevin Falcon says a top priority would be travelling to Ottawa to seek Prime Minister Stephen Harper's agreement to reduce the HST by a percentage point ahead of the 2012 date for making such adjustments.

Mr. Falcon, who resigned as health minister to focus on the leadership campaign ahead of a Feb. 26 party vote, promised the in-person lobbying on Tuesday after announcing his plans to boisterous supporters at the Surrey Museum.

Mr. Falcon, who had a six-year stint as transportation minister before being assigned to health, acknowledged Ottawa might reject his pitch, but suggested in an interview that Ottawa would be wise to consider it, because it wants harmonized sales taxes and so should be open to adjustments "the public might find supportable."

"The Prime Minister has always demonstrated, in the past, a willingness to, at least, engage in a discussion to look at options that might preserve good tax policy," Mr. Falcon said.

Under the terms of an agreement with Ottawa that morphed the 5 per cent federal goods and services tax and 7 per cent provincial sales tax into the HST, British Columbia cannot seek to renegotiate the rate until July, 2012.

The tax, which Premier Gordon Campbell adopted after the Liberals had ruled out the idea during the 2009 election campaign, has been a political disaster for the government, eroding support and leading Mr. Campbell to announce his resignation last month after nine years as Premier.

As Mr. Falcon entered the race backed by 10 MLAs, including Labour Minister Iain Black and Children and Families Minister Mary Polak, he acknowledged the turmoil caused by the unpopular tax.

"The message from the public is very clear - they are upset at not being consulted and are angry about how it was implemented," Mr. Falcon said.

He proposed a 1-per-cent HST reduction in 2011 and a further 1-per-cent reduction when revenues allow to see if such rate reductions would make the controversial tax more acceptable to voters, who have been so angry they signed anti-HST petitions in the tens of thousands, triggering a referendum under Initiative legislation next September.

Like George Abbott, the former education minister also in the leadership race, Mr. Falcon is proposing the referendum be moved ahead to June.

Mr. Abbott was wary about Mr. Falcon's proposal to cut the HST, suggesting a one-point cut would cost $600-million in government revenues. "[The reduction]is a nice idea. The question is, can we afford it," Mr. Abbott said.

He said an effort to cut the tax before the referendum would leave Mr. Falcon vulnerable to charges he was trying to buy voter support.

But both men were united in a challenge to Christy Clark, a former deputy premier and now a radio talk-show host, who is considering a leadership run.

They said that if Ms. Clark enters, she should commit to seeking a seat in the legislature whether she wins or loses.

"I like Christy very much, but I do believe that if you're going to be in politics, you run for all of the offices that are required, not just the one big one," Mr. Abbott said.

Mr. Falcon's arrival in the race raises the level of competition, pitting two experienced former ministers against each other, with a third in the wings. Attorney-General Mike de Jong is expected on Wednesday to enter the race, the first leadership fight on the centre-right since Mr. Campbell won it in 1993.

Moira Stilwell, a radiologist and nuclear-medicine physician, is also a candidate. She has limited cabinet experience.

Critics have dismissed Mr. Falcon as too right-wing to hold together the B.C. Liberal coalition of federal Liberals and federal Conservatives. The former minister seemed mindful of that on Tuesday, pointedly touting his commitment to "a strong public health-care system" and support for the Insite safe-injection site.

"I am certainly right-wing as a fiscal conservative," he said in the interview. "The reason I ran for public office was to reduce the tax burden on British Columbians, both business and personal. We have done that very successfully. I am proud of that record. On a whole range of social policies, I am actually an evidence person. I want to do what is the right thing to do."

Tuesday night, the Surrey-Cloverdale MLA took his campaign almost 800 kilometres north of the Lower Mainland to the city of Prince George in a bid to court the rural votes he will need as part of his campaign to win the leadership.

Speaking to party members at a downtown hotel, Mr. Falcon noted that he was the first would-be provincial leader to open their campaign in the region.

"I am thrilled to launch my campaign at the centre of British Columbia, the heart of British Columbia here in Prince George," said Mr. Falcon, who went on to tout Liberal accomplishments in the region such as a container port in Prince Rupert.

He saluted the work of prominent area cabinet ministers Pat Bell and Shirley Bond although neither has lined up to publicly support him yet.

As premier, he said he would tell the story of the northern opportunities in natural resources, and partnerships with first nations and other areas.

"If I am fortunate to become premier, I will also make sure I spend a lot of time in the north listening, learning and leading," he said, picking up on a theme of a stump speech he unveiled with the first phase of his campaign launch earlier in the day in Cloverdale.

Like the other candidates so far in the race, Mr. Falcon is supportive of an increase in BC's $8-per-hour minimum wage - the lowest in Canada. He qualified that support by noting he would like to see a proper review to guide any changes.

Tuesday night, he took his campaign almost 800 kilometres north of the Lower Mainland to the city of Prince George in a bid to court the rural votes he will need as part of his campaign to win the leadership.

Speaking to party members at a downtown hotel, Mr. Falcon noted that he was the first would-be provincial leader to open their campaign in the region.

"I am thrilled to launch my campaign at the centre of British Columbia, the heart of British Columbia here in Prince George," said Mr. Falcon, who went on to tout Liberal accomplishments in the region such as a container port in Prince Rupert.

He saluted the work of prominent area cabinet ministers Pat Bell and Shirley Bond although neither has lined up to publicly support him yet.

As premier, he said he would tell the story of the northern opportunities in natural resources, and partnerships with first nations and other areas.

"If I am fortunate to become premier, I will also make sure I spend a lot of time in the north listening, learning and leading," he said, picking up on a theme of a stump speech he unveiled with the first phase of his campaign launch earlier in the day in Cloverdale.