Kevin Falcon said he left politics because of his young family and, ironically, that same reason — his kids and other B.C. youngsters — brought him back.
Now 58, the former cabinet minister, family man and avid mountain biker who quit politics after 12 years in 2012 has since worked as a vice-president at Anthem Capital.
Falcon is running for the B.C. Liberal leadership, his second bid at the job. He was runner-up to Christy Clark in the 2011 leadership race and thinks big ideas could lead his party back into power.
“I’m thinking about people’s children and grandchildren and making sure that that generation of kids has the same sense of hope and optimism for the future that I had when I was a kid growing up in British Columbia,” he told KTW in an interview during a July 29 visit to smoky Kamloops.
“And I’m very, very concerned that the direction the current government is taking us is going to erase a lot of those opportunities and diminish the optimism that people should have for the future.”
Primarily, Falcon said, he is concerned about B.C.’s economic future. The former finance minister, who touts private sector success as a means to run government programs, criticized NDP leadership for the provincial credit rating being downgraded, a $5.5-billion deficit and capital projects running over budget, including four-laning of the Trans Canada Highway east of Kamloops and BC Hydro’s Site C dam.
He said taxpayers work hard and expect financial discipline.
“I’m just not seeing any of that now and I think the trend line is very, very worrisome,” Falcon said.
He repeatedly criticized NDP leadership, including Premier John Horgan appearing to back off a promise to deliver improved cancer care in Kamloops within this four-year mandate.
During the last election, Horgan matched a promise by the BC Liberals for an enhanced cancer centre (with radiation treatment) in Kamloops, but has since deferred to Health Minister Adrian Dix, who is only committing to a 10-year timeline.
However, the Horgan government had been largely commended for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic though 2020 and obtained a majority to govern in last October’s provincial election, during which former BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson was criticized for underperforming.
After the Liberals secured only 28 seats in the election, calls were heard for review and renewal, including from Kamloops-South Thompson Liberal MLA Todd Stone. Stone is among those now backing Falcon. Stone said he endorsed Falcon because millions of British Columbians are depending on the party to get the leadership race right and there is too much at stake to take chances.
He said he and Falcon share similar values: family mentality (they’re both self-described “girl-dads”), hard-work, opportunity for everyone, free enterprise and taking risks and being rewarded.
Stone, who ran for the party leadership in 2018, said the province needs a leader with bold ideas around climate change, child care and housing affordability.
“He’s tested, he’s experienced,” Stone said. “He’s been the deputy premier, the finance minister, the transportation minister, the health minister. He knows his way around government. He’s going to be ready on day one. Ready on day one with a plan to build the party and ready on day one to take the fight to John Horgan or whoever the leader of the NDP is and take us into the next election and win.”
Asked how he will convince people he is not tied to the Clark and Gordon Campbell eras, given the previous calls for renewal, Falcon said that while the BC Liberal governments were not perfect, he is proud of the party’s fiscal report cards.
In the future, he wants to ensure diversity of candidates, including more women and young people regardless of sexual orientation or religion.
He said the party moving forward needs to have big ideas, which he said made it successful in the past. His big ideas include the environment, child care and mental-health and addictions solutions.
He cited the Liberals for introducing the carbon tax and said that while the NDP eliminated tolls on the Port Mann Bridge (Falcon’s project as transport minister) — which was promised by Horgan in an election campaign, arguing it was unfair and costly to Lower Mainland residents — environmentalists would say scrapping tolls was not the right decision.
Falcon supports $10 a day child care. However, he envisions it being not entirely public, but a combination of private, non-profit and public spaces.
Another idea put out by Falcon is changing the name of the BC Liberal Party. He does not have a proposed alternative, but said it would be done based on membership consultation.
“Only because we often hear from a lot of our members that there’s a lot of confusion around our name,” he said, noting discrepancy between the BC Liberals, federal Liberals and BC Conservatives.
(The BC Liberals are a right of centre coalition, the successor to Social Credit, and are not affiliated with the federal Liberal Party of Canada.)
In the past, Falcon supported Maxime Bernier in his bid for the federal Conservative leadership, who later went on to resign from the party and form the far-right People’s Party of Canada. Asked why he supported him at the time, Falcon said Bernier was putting forward big ideas and expanding the party to include the LGBTQ community.
“But I have to be really clear about this,” Falcon said. “The day he left the Conservative Party and quit the party, he was dead to me. What I mean by that is once he left the party and started up this People’s Party thing, I’ve had nothing to do with him and I’ve disowned everything he’s been involved with since he was involved with the Conservative Party and I think it’s very unfortunate. It’s almost, frankly, a bit embarrassing to me, but I have to accept my responsibility because I did support him back one day, but for reasons that I thought were important.”
On the issue of electoral reform, Falcon said “that issue’s been buried” and supports the first past the post system. He criticized proposed elimination of protections on the number of rural seats.
BC Liberal members will vote for a new leader in February 2022 and Falcon has been referred by some pundits as the early frontrunner.
Also seeing the leadership are businessman Gavin Dew, MLAs Michael Lee and Ellis Ross and former BC Chamber of Commerce CEO Val Litwin.
Perhaps a more significant challenge will be defeating the Horgan government. Falcon said the Horgan government has benefited from limited opposition during the pandemic and his true test will be when the pandemic is in the rearview mirror. Falcon noted issues of social disorder on streets, a sense of insecurity in neighbourhoods, mental- health and addictions resources and capital project expenditures.
He said he knows how to manage and execute large projects after his time as transportation minister. He met with Victoria Street West business owners prior to his interview with KTW and said vandalism and other problems are “huge issues.”
Falcon is on the board for Streettohome Foundation in Vancouver, which aids the homeless, and said housing is important, but proper 24-seven wraparound services are also needed. He said they were promised, but are not happening in Kamloops, which leads to community concern and, subsequently, a lack of community support for the vulnerable.
Falcon said mental-health and addictions issues require a “much bolder response,” including more effective addiction recovery programs. He said problems facing business owners on Victoria Street West are being replicated in other communities in B.C.
“A real concern I have today is that the focus of the current government is more about how do we provide safe drugs to this population and there’s not enough talk about how do we actually get them off of their addictions into recovery, so that they can become contributing members of society again,” he said.
“And I think that is a massive gap that we need to start talking about. Yes, we need safe drugs because we don’t want people dying, for sure, but we cannot just have a system that is maintaining a lifestyle that is highly dangerous to the individuals that are addicted to very dangerous drugs.”
Falcon is travelling around communities in British Columbia. While in Kamloops, he also met with business owners in order to hear firsthand how they have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.