BC Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon was in Kamloops recently to meet with community organizations, attend a party fundraiser and chat with the media.
Falcon stopped by the KTW newsroom on Nov.18 and, along with Kamloops MLAs Todd Stone and Peter Milobar, met with KTW editor Christopher Foulds to discuss various issues, including housing, health care, social disorder on the streets and his party’s new name.
Falcon also sat for a quick — and lighter — Q&A in which he chose a Grey Cup champion and offered Christmas gift ideas for Premier David Eby and BC Green Leader Sonia Fursteneau. That quick Q&A can be seen in the video below.
Falcon’s interview began exactly nine minutes after David Eby had been sworn in as B.C.’s 37th premier.
Q: You were in Kamloops on Nov. 18, where you met with the ASK Wellness Society at its Maverick Housing complex. What is the problem with the current policies?
A: “I think the housing program and policies that David Eby has overseen for the last number of years have frankly, been disastrous for many communities and have created a lot of strife, as we’ve seen here in Kamloops between the mayor and the non-profits. The real accountability has to be with the province because the province is not properly funding some of these things and is not providing the proper resources, That creates challenges for the non-profits and angers the local elected officials and the community, etc. But all of this points right back to the province and to David Eby. This idea that you could go out and buy a bunch of motels and hotels and warehouse people with mental-health and addiction issues and pretend to provide supports that, just frankly, are not there has been a disaster in almost every community.”
Q: If you were premier, what would you do to address the housing crisis, both in sales and rentals?
A: “This is a government that promised they were going to deal with housing affordability when they got elected in 2017. They introduced a whole blizzard of new taxes that they said were going to solve the problem. They also then promised 114,000 affordable housing units built within 10 years. OK, let;’s do a check here: They’re halfway through their mandate and B.C. now has the highest housing prices in North America, third-highest on the planet. Our rents are the highest in Canada. And, of the 114,000 new homes they were going to build, they built exactly six per cent of those — 40 per cent of those were started under BC Liberals. The reason I point that out is, again, focusing on outcome and results, they’re getting terrible results. I come from a housing background. I’ve been part of a company that built more housing than the NDP has done in the five years they have been in office.”
Q: As premier, what would you do?
A: “No. 1, supply. David Eby has only recently gotten religion on supply. Anyone who understands fundamental economics knows that you’ve got to deal with not just the demand side — which is all the taxes they’ve imposed — but the supply side. I said we would make it very clear that we are going to have legislative changes to ensure there is timeliness and clarity around the approval processes. Then what I would do is have a carrot and stick approach to encourage those municipalities to achieve housing targets, but you need to have a financial incentive for them to do that. You’ve got to make sure there is a financial incentive for the right behaviour and financial penalties for the wrong behaviour. There are, unfortunately, still some councils around that think that everyone else should solve the housing problem, but not them. They will find the Kevin Falcon administration is going to be extremely unpleasant to deal with if that’s the approach they’re going to take.”
Q: Is there room for the province to have oversight on zoning issues in municipalities?
A: “For sure, but we have to be careful, though. I would work with local governments to increase density, a requirement especially along transit corridors or near transit corridors. But the problem with David Eby saying every single single-family neighbourhood is now going to be eligible for a triplex, that is hugely problematic for a couple of reasons. One, it’s not particularly environmentally friendly because you’re going introduce a whole bunch of population spread out over the place without proper transit and they’re going to have to use vehicles to get around. Secondly, there’s going to be huge costs associated with that. You have to upgrade all the sewer, water, power, schools, hospitals, etc. To be totally blunt here, he has not spent five minutes in the private sector. He’s never been involved in building housing or having anything to do with what’s really involved in getting housing built. And it worries me that someone that has such limited skillset thinks he’s going to be able to solve the problem by making big announcements.”
Q: If you were premier, what is the first concrete step you would do to address issues facing health care?
A: “When I announced that project [in 2010 as health minister), the divisions of family practice and a doctor for everyone, it’s something I still very much support. It can be done, but it will take time and we have to be honest with the public. There’s a couple of things that have to happen. When I first got elected in 2001, we had 128 training spaces in British Columbia for doctors. We more than doubled that to 288. That’s a start. Problem is it takes seven years to train a physician, typically … This government, now in their second term, has not added one training new space. They’ve done nothing to do with the real challenge of allowing what we call international medical graduates to practice here. Now, most international medical graduates are B.C. kids who have gone to school overseas. They can’t get here because we haven’t got enough residency spaces available for them. What we have said is we would automatically increase the residency spaces up to 150 and we would start getting those B.C. kids, that are fully trained, into British Columbia and practising. And to do that, we’re going to have to have some harsh discussions with both UBC and with the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Honestly, I wished I had dealt with it in the two years I was health minister. I’ve learned, over time, that they’re still using the same arguments about why we can’t deal with these things and that’s the benefit of experience.”
Q: How do we tackle the problem of social disorder on the streets? Is a return to an improved form of institutional care an answer?
A: “I’ve been talking about that for two years. What I’ve been saying is we’ve got a mental-health crisis that’s gotten dramatically worse over the last half-dozen years. We have folks on the streets that have been left to their own devices. They’re being exploited, abused and, sometimes, trafficked. We have an obligation as a government to reopen modernized versions of what used to be Tranquille and Essondale and Riverview, in apartment-like settings with proper psychiatric and medical supports —genuine 24/7 supports to help this folks who can’t look after themselves. The NDP government has been criticizing me for this position and only very recently has David Eby suddenly started echoing some of what I have been talking about for two years. And, while that is encouraging, just count me as skeptical because, again, I like to focus on the results.
Q: Can you explain the BC Liberals' proposal to axe PST on used vehicles under $20,000?
A: “We are going to get rid of it (PST on used vehicles with a value under $20,000) because it’s penalizing the most vulnerable, challenged part of the population, which is just trying to buy an affordable vehicle. But they’re [NDP] now saying, even if you get a good deal on a vehicle, they’re going to assess it based on what they think it’s worth and then charge you tax on it. That’s really offensive. You’re talking about folks that have the least amount of money and are just trying to make ends meet.”
Q: But why is there PST on anything that has already been taxed and why did the B.C. Liberals not do anything about that when they were in power? Is it right to tax something that has already been taxed?
A: “No, but I think it’s part of the challenge you have when you have a provincial sales tax and you have a federal GST that are operating in different worlds. They try to pair it up so there’s some cohesion between the two of them, but it’s difficult to do. That’s what the HST was all about, to try to deal with a lot of these inconsistencies. Obviously, the public didn’t appreciate that approach and we brought it in very poorly, no question.”
Q: You are No. 11 on the Wilderness Committee’s Dirty 30 Holding Back Climate Action List, two sets behind former NDP premier John Horgan. Reasons cited are expansion of highways and bridges when you were transportation minister. Thoughts on that designation?
A: “That’s really interesting. So, the individual who spearheaded the construction of the [SkyTrain] Canada Line, launched the Evergreen Line, built the Port Mann Bridge — but put a toll on it, by the way and check and see what environmentalists say about tolling — and was part of the government that brought in North America’s first revenue-neutral carbon tax, which the NDP opposed. And the NDP took the tolls off the Port Mann Bridge. I would put my climate record up against any of those jokers any day of the week because I care a lot about the climate. It’s one of the reasons I am coming back to this job, is for my kids’ generation. I’ve got two daughters, 12 and nine, and I’m going to be making decisions thinking about that generation and beyond.”
Q: If someone who does not follow politics asked you to explain the difference between your party and the NDP, what would your answer be, in layman’s terms?
A: “That we are all individuals that believe that government is best served by encouraging a private sector-driven economy that will then generate the revenues government needs because government generates no revenues, right? We get it from individuals or from businesses. So, we want to encourage a private sector-driven economy that will generate the kind of revenues that will allow us to fund first-class public health services, education and all the rest — so, united by that principle. And the reason why we talk BC United (the soon-to-be new name the BC Liberal Party) is because I really want this province to be united. I’m very concerned about what I see happening politically around the world and I think it’s important that we have individuals that have the right skillsets, but also are trying to bring people together, not drive people apart.”