B.C. Liberal leadership: Former cabinet minister Kevin Falcon swoops into the race

Kevin Falcon

Falcon must overcome ties to previous Liberal governments under Christy Clark and Gordon Campbell

VANCOUVER SUN

Kevin Falcon announced his bid to lead the B.C. Liberals on Monday evening, acknowledging his biggest challenge will be shaking off the baggage of his cabinet roles in the Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark governments.

But he insisted he can lead a party in desperate need of renewal, a party with a new name if Falcon gets his way.

“I believe that our renewal demands a new party name, one that will be decided upon in consultation with our own membership,” Falcon said in a speech during his Facebook Live announcement Monday night.

Falcon’s announcement was preempted by a Twitter post Monday morning by B.C. Liberal MLA Michael Lee which said: “Ready to run.” The post was accompanied by a teaser video of him running through the forest and tying up his laces. However, Lee’s campaign said Monday no date has been set for his formal announcement.

After winning the riding of Vancouver-Langara in 2017, Lee ran for the B.C. Liberal leadership race in 2018, finishing third behind former leader Andrew Wilkinson and Dianne Watts.

Falcon’s previous attempt to clinch the Liberal leadership was in 2011 when he narrowly lost to Clark. Despite years away from the political stage, Falcon had been declared a front-runner months before his official announcement.

As a result, he’s well prepared for attacks from his opponents, chief among them the New Democrats, that he was part of a Liberal government that cut social programs, brought in the hated and now-repealed harmonized sales tax, implemented tolls on the Port Mann Bridge and turned a blind eye to runaway housing prices and money laundering in casinos.

Falcon spent 12 years in the Liberal government which included roles as minister of state for deregulation, transportation minister and health minister under Campbell and finance minister and deputy premier under Clark.

Falcon said he left the political arena in 2012 to focus on his family — his now 11-year-old daughter Josephine was two at the time and his wife Jessica was pregnant with their second child, Rose, who is now 8. Now he said he’s jumping back into politics for his family.

“Because over the last several years I have watched this NDP government blow through a multi-billion dollar surplus. And that was during good times … that was before the global pandemic hit,” Falcon said in an interview with Postmedia News. He said new taxes by the NDP government has made life more unaffordable for families and difficult for small businesses.

Falcon said it’s “fair criticism” that the B.C. Liberals failed to prevent the runaway real estate boom in 2016 but noted that he was out of office for years by that point. “I missed a lot of that run-up in pricing but regardless of that, I do think that the province could have done more.”

However, he said the NDP government’s speculation tax has had a disastrous impact on the housing sector.

“All they did was add more costs to housing and instead of prices going down, actually prices have continued to go up,” said Falcon, insisting that the only homes that got cheaper were properties over $4 million.

The solution is to increase housing supply by removing bureaucratic red tape, said Falcon, an executive with Vancouver-based real estate development and private equity firm, Anthem Capital.

“I’ve seen firsthand how the combination of incompetence at the local government level, coupled with really bad policies at the provincial level, conspired to ensure that there’s not enough housing, and that’s something I can change,” he said.

He said Anthem Capital builds not just luxury condominiums but affordable housing, market rental housing and townhouses across Metro Vancouver.

Falcon promised to improve the province’s response to homelessness, mental health and addiction, which he said has suffered through decades of successive failures by New Democrats, B.C. Liberals and the Social Credit party. He believes some individuals are so far gone that the only way to help them, and keep the streets safe for others, is to involuntarily commit people with very severe mental illness or addiction, giving them “compassionate, 24/7 care” until they can be stabilized and reintroduced in the community.

Falcon points to his support of Vancouver’s Insite, the first supervised injection site in Canada when it opened in 2003, as evidence that he believes a safe supply of prescription opioids has some role to play in addiction management. However, he also believes some people would benefit from abstinence-based recovery programs.

Given the disastrous October election in which the B.C. Liberals lost former strongholds across the Lower Mainland, reducing the party to 28 seats mostly in the Interior and Northern B.C., Falcon admits “our party needs help.”

“We used to stand for important ideas and principles. And I think the last two election losses demonstrate that we’ve lost our way,” he said.

Wilkinson faced criticism for being elitist, out of touch with regular voters and lacking a strong stand on social issues such as combating racism and promoting diversity and LGBTQ+ rights. However, many have asked whether a 58-year-old real estate executive will be able to connect with people struggling to afford rent or reeling from the economic fallout of the pandemic.

In a subtle acknowledgment of this hurdle, Falcon’s official bio involves an origin story that touts his humble upbringing as one of six children in a West Vancouver home that his parents — his mom a nurse and his dad an appliance salesman — bought in 1963 for $23,000. Through a program to help low-income families, Falcon and his brothers received free tuition to attend Vancouver College, a Catholic all-boys private school in Shaughnessy.

Falcon is quick to correct the record that he drives a Mazda 6, not a Porsche, although he did own one in the past when he collected cars to refurbish.

He also points out that he spent 12 years representing the riding of Surrey-Cloverdale which allowed him to connect with farmers, working-class voters and diverse communities.

On bringing diversity into the B.C. Liberals — which former Liberal MLA Jas Johal has said is a must if the party wants to regain seats in urban ridings — Falcon said he doesn’t believe in the quota system devised by the NDP but vows to attract competent men and women, LGBTQ+ people, and people of colour.

“I want to be very clear about this,” he said. “This party under Kevin Falcon’s leadership will reflect our communities.”

As speculation ramped up that Falcon was getting ready to announce, the New Democrats released an attack campaign on Friday, citing Falcon’s endorsement of Maxime Bernier for Conservative leader in 2017 as proof Falcon’s loyalties lie with a politician who peddles identity politics and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Bernier quit the Conservative party to form the far-right People’s Party of Canada.

“Maxime Bernier is known for his dangerous anti-immigrant views, and Kevin Falcon tried to help him become the prime minister,” said Aman Singh, NDP MLA for Richmond-Queensborough. “How can Falcon lead a province as diverse as B.C.?”

Falcon said in a statement he backed Bernier during the leadership race based on “his economic policies and support for the LGBTQ+ community. I unequivocally condemn his offensive statement and have not been in contact with him since he left the Conservative party.”

The B.C. Liberal leadership convention takes place on Feb. 5. Skeena MLA Ellis Ross, a former chief of the Haisla Nation, and Gavin Dew, founder of the Forum for Millennial Leadership, have also announced they are running.

Liberal MLAs Renee Merrifield, Michael Lee, Tom Shypitka, and conservative social media influencer Aaron Gunn have said they’re considering a bid for the leadership but none are ready to officially declare. Liberal MLAs Mike Morris and Mike Bernier have announced they won’t be running.

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