Welcome to “Cloverdale In Conversation,” a regular feature with a local newsmaker. This week, Kevin Falcon is our guest. The three-term MLA for Surrey-Cloverdale represented this riding from 2001 to 2013. He took a hiatus from politics for several years, but is now back after recently winning his bid to be leader of the B.C. Liberal party.
Kevin chats about his life, politics, and what he’d do for B.C. if he was elected premier. He also says he’s really looking forward to getting back to Cloverdale soon to reconnect with some familiar faces.
Malin Jordan: Tell me a little bit about yourself, where you grew up, that kind of stuff.
Kevin Falcon: I grew up on the north shore of Vancouver. I grew up in a family of six boys. My mom was a nurse and my dad was a small business operator.
I was very fortunate to go to Vancouver College for high school. And because we were a large family of modest means, they allowed us to go to school for no tuition. I worked my way through Simon Fraser University and worked at the Vancouver shipyard as a security guard. I graduated from university and went into the business world. I was involved in real estate investment, before I went into politics, but I also had a communications company located in Cloverdale.
MJ: Was it the communications company that got you connected to Cloverdale?
KF: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I also have other connections to Surrey that go back to when I was a student in university. I was involved in municipal politics in Surrey. I ran Dianne Watts’ first campaign when she ran for council. Same with Doug McCallum when he first ran for council, way way back when. So I’ve been involved in Surrey for a long time.
MJ: What riding will you run in in the next election?
KF: I will make sure that I run in an NDP-held riding. My responsibility as leader is not to look for a so-called “safe seat,” but to try and win back a seat from the NDP.
MJ: When did you first run in Cloverdale?
KF: 2001 was the first time I got elected as the MLA for Surrey-Cloverdale. I proudly served that riding for three elections. I announced my retirement from public life in 2012, when my eldest daughter was just turning three, and my wife was about to have our second daughter, Rose. I wanted to make sure I was going to be present for my kids and not be an absent dad. Politics can be very hard on families because you have to be away a lot.
For the better part of a decade, I’ve been working in the private sector for a company called Anthem Capital. We make investments in real estate development, but we also invest in natural resources and operating companies, high tech companies, etc. So I oversee our investments right across the whole range. And I was most proud of the fact that we are major investors in Surrey, especially in housing, and we’ve built hundreds of homes, mostly townhomes in the Fleetwood area.
MJ: Speaking of housing, what would you do to make housing more affordable for British Columbians?
KF: This is such an important question. The NDP government has no clue what they’re doing. They introduced a whole slough of taxes in the 2018 budget and said this was going to be their solution to the housing crisis. In fact, housing has gone up every year they’ve been in power, and this year is the highest it’s ever been. It’s an utter policy trainwreck.
So, I’ll do two big things differently. One, I will bring in legislation to force local governments to do their bit in ensuring that we get much more new supply into the marketplace, particularly around planned or existing SkyTrain stations. This is absolutely critical, because unless we get far more supply in the market, the demand with limited supply is going to continue to see an escalation in pricing.
The second thing is, I’m going to look at the housing market through the lens of a first time buyer. And I’m going to strip out all of those unnecessary costs that are imposed by government, both provincial and municipal, I can’t do anything about the Feds, and make sure that we are providing affordability for first time buyers in our province.
It’s a tragedy that we’ve got a whole generation of young people that have largely given up on the dream of homeownership. And that is just totally unacceptable.
MJ: I often hear people say, “foreign buyers drive up the cost of housing.” Is there any truth to that? And if so, what could you do to try and cool that off?
KF: Yes, there is some truth, but it’s generally overstated. Today, the government has all the stats. So you can look up and see what the percentage of foreign buyers are. But the reason why it’s very important not to buy into that too much, is that over the last two years, during COVID, we’ve had virtually no foreign buyers buying into the market, because none could travel here. And yet, we still have the highest housing prices ever. Foreign buyers typically represent less than five per cent of the buyers in our market. And I think the NDP have tried to use that as an excuse for their utter failure to deal with the real issue, which is a housing supply issue.
MJ: Changing speeds a little bit, you had talked on RedFM about the hospital site in Cloverdale. After I wrote my story about your comments, I’ve gotten more than a dozen emails from people that have all said the same thing, basically, they’re not fond of that location. Obviously you wouldn’t stop the hospital if shovels were in the ground. But if a Liberal government was elected, and the Cloverdale Hospital had yet to be started, would you move it?
KF: I am very supportive of building another hospital in Surrey. So I want to be clear about that. However, we have to stop calling this a hospital. It’s an urgent care centre, not a full-fledged hospital. It is not another Surrey Memorial Hospital. There’s going to be five operating rooms. They’ll have some cancer services, a childcare centre, lab services, etc. But there’s not going to be any of the full suite of services you would expect at a real hospital.
MJ: Really? I think most people think this will be a full-fledged, regular hospital.
KF: I know. That’s why I refuse to call it a hospital. It is not a Surrey Memorial Hospital. We have to be so clear about that. It’s an urgent care centre.
It’s also instructive, Malin, that the Fraser Health Authority doesn’t even support where it’s being built. That’s why they’re not putting any money into it. We need another hospital for sure, but the biggest challenge we face in the health-care system is not the structures, it’s the people to staff them: the doctors, the nurses, the care aids, the janitorial staff. If you put a hospital in a location that is difficult to access, or you have to access it primarily by car, and there’s limited bus transportation too, that’s very, very challenging to attract the most important ingredient to a successful hospital, which is people, the staff.
What I have said is the ideal location would be along or close to SkyTrain.
MJ: Do you think the NDP will get shovels in the ground on schedule?
KF: The NDP have been promising this hospital since 2017. We’re now five years later and, not surprisingly, because this is a common theme with the NDP, there’s nothing to show for it. They didn’t even have any money in their budget for it as far back as 2020. And I’m a former finance minister, so the first thing I look at is “have they got the dollars put aside?” And they didn’t.
If they get construction started in 2024, it’s possible, but that’s seven years later. Just to step back for a moment, Malin, understand something. I was minister of transportation for six years and just in that six year period, just keeping to Surrey, we widened No. 10 Highway; we widened 176 Street; we built the Port Mann Bridge; we built the South Fraser Perimeter Road; we did a $500 million expansion of Surrey Memorial Hospital.
MJ: Going back to what you previously said about problems with getting the people to staff new hospitals. The NDP has already suspended thousands of health-care workers without pay. As Omicron fades, and every other province begins to relax restrictions and end mandates, last week Bonnie Henry came out with a new laundy list of other health-care workers that will have to get jabbed or lose their jobs in March: massage therapists, acupuncturists, dentists and others. What would you do, if you were elected, about the mandates that health-care workers have to be vaccinated? Would you remove that and let them come back to work?
KF: I do not like the idea of firing critical health-care workers over issues like those mandates—especially now as we have reached a 92 per cent vaccination rate in the province of British Columbia, which we can all be proud of. But I’m very concerned about the idea of firing critical nurses, and those that work in the health-care system, at this point as we have a hopefully continuing, rapidly diminishing COVID threat. Getting people to staff this new urgent care centre is going to be an epic challenge.
MJ: Did you see the recent stats regarding drug overdoses? Do you have any ideas of how to tackle the opioid crisis?
KF: Oh, absolutely. This government is focused entirely on what they call “safe supply.” And it’s important to understand there’s no such thing as safe supply. It’s unsafe to take narcotics, period. That’s why doctors are highly reluctant to prescribe them. But (the NDP’s) entire focus is on just giving people safe drugs. And while that may be part of the solution, there needs to be way more focus on recovery, investing hugely in recovery to help these folks get off of their addictions, so that they can become contributing members of society. And the second thing I would do is a massive investment in full-time, 24/7 care facilities, probably at Riverview. We need at least 300 beds, to really look after these folks, and make sure they get the proper care and attention, both psychiatric and medical, to ensure that they’re not being left on the streets, being exploited and abused by drug dealers and others, so that they can get the proper care they need. That I think is true compassion.
MJ: Anything you want to add?
KF: Just that I’m really looking forward to getting back to Cloverdale and seeing my friends at the Chamber. I’m hopeful that I’ll get a chance to say hi to local businesses and see how people are doing. It’s been a tough couple of years, especially for small businesses, and I want them to know there’s hope, that there is a leader of the opposition that is absolutely committed to getting this province going again, getting things built, not just talking about them, but actually getting things happening on the ground for the benefit of residents.
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