Vaughn Palmer: Focus on Falcon means he’s the B.C. Liberal front-runner

Kevin Falcon

Opinion: Hard to tell whether NDP attacks on Falcon indicate they fear him or whether it’s just his political baggage offers so many targets

VANCOUVER SUN

VICTORIA — As the Liberal leadership candidate with the longest baggage train, former cabinet minister Kevin Falcon spent much of his first few days in the race explaining himself.

His biggest embarrassment was accounting for supporting Maxime Bernier’s 2017 bid for the federal Conservative leadership. Bernier later quit the Conservatives and founded the fringe People’s Party of Canada.

Falcon was asked Wednesday if he had any regrets about endorsing such a divisive figure.

“Oh gosh, do I ever — for sure,” he told interviewer Brett Mineer on CHNL radio in Kamloops. “But look. I think it’s important to remember that that was when he was running for the leadership of the mainstream federal Conservative party and he came in second place. And the reason I supported him then — I actually didn’t know him, to be honest, I never met him before I supported him — was for two reasons.

“One is his economic ideas, not all of which I agreed with, but I loved the fact he was putting forward big ideas. And the other was his outreach to the LGBTQ community. I thought it was really important that the Conservative party expand their tent and include the members of the LGBTQ, and he was open to doing that and being supportive of that.”

Once Bernier bolted the Conservatives and went rogue with his own party, “he was dead to me,” said Falcon. “I never spoke to him again since. I’ve never had any interactions with him since he’s left the party. I think it’s unfortunate the road that he’s travelled since then.”

Falcon offered further assurances that he has broken with Bernier’s radical views on issues like immigration, during an interview on Surrey’s CKYE radio station.

“Look, this is the NDP trying to push this out and trying to pretend somehow because he’s had really stupid ideas recently that I must wear all that. I want to remind the NDP that their former leader in New Brunswick, Dominic Cardy, also supported Maxime Bernier back in 2016,” Falcon told broadcaster Harjinder Thind on Tuesday.

“You know me and the community knows me. I’ve worked in the South Asian community for 30 years. There’s no way anybody that knows me in the community could say that I have anything but love and respect for the South Asian community.”

Falcon expressed no regrets for supporting the harmonized sales tax as a B.C. Liberal minister. He still maintains that value-added taxation on the HST model is preferable to the provincial sales tax.

“It was the right tax,” Falcon told Mike Smyth on CKNW radio on Tuesday, noting that value-added taxation is the preferred model for consumption taxes in more than 100 countries around the world.

But having said that, he won’t be courting political suicide by proposing to revive the HST.

“I wouldn’t bring it back because the public has already spoken on that,” he told Smyth. “I have to respect the public’s opinion, but I also have to be true to my principles.”

He’s likewise been forced to reconcile his principles with political reality on bridge tolling.

As transportation minister, Falcon brought in the tolls to finance the multi-billion-dollar 10-lane replacement for the Port Mann Bridge. John Horgan’s promise to get rid of the tolls jump started the NDP’s breakthrough campaign in 2017. Keeping the promise was one of the first acts of the Horgan-led NDP government.

“Yes, they took off the tolls,” Falcon acknowledged. “Was that smart politics? It was smart politics.

“Was it good for the environment? No. Traffic growth has grown 30 per cent. There’s a lot of people now that are going to be spending a lot more time sitting in traffic with their cars, idling away.”

His verdict on the decision to remove the tolls echoes that of Horgan’s partner in power-sharing, Andrew Weaver. He went along with Horgan’s insistence on keeping the election promise, but correctly predicted that removal of the tolls would increase congestion as people returned to their cars. “It was a great election promise and bad public policy,” said Weaver.

Would Falcon bring back bridge tolling as premier?

“No, that decision’s been made, I can’t revisit that,” he said.

The Liberal government policy was to consider tolls as a way of paying for infrastructure providing a “free, non-tolled alternative” was available. Would that provide an opening for a Falcon-led government to reintroduce tolling to pay for new transportation infrastructure.

“Unlikely,” said Falcon. “There’s very few places where (tolling) does make a lot of sense. I can’t envision a new bridge crossing that would require one.”

Following in Falcon’s wake as the candidate explained and defended his record this week were the New Democrats. Their research department kept up a steady stream of news releases on each of Falcon’s admissions and omissions.

A sign, claimed Falcon, of “the terror they feel in the prospect of me becoming leader of the party.” The New Democrats would be ignoring him if they “weren’t worried about me,” he told Shannon Waters of the B.C. Today news report.

Or it may just be that candidate Falcon has provided NDP researchers with what they regard as an irresistibly target-rich environment.

Either way, the focus on him, for and against, does confirm his status as the current front-runner for the leadership, albeit with the vote not scheduled to take place until early next year.

https://vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/vaughn-palmer-focus-on-falcon-process-hes-liberal-front-runner