By Geoff Russ
In July 2008, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) held up traffic on the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge that connects East and North Vancouver. It was Canada Day. Commuters bound for celebratory beers and barbecues in backyards were backed up along East Hastings Street or Highway 1 for roughly six hours.
An anguished elderly woman was threatening to plunge 150 feet from the bridge to her death in Burrard Inlet. To handle the situation, the VPD decided to close down the entire bridge instead of closing down a few lanes and traffic was ground to a complete halt. You could have flown from Vancouver to Mexico City in the six hour motorists’ nightmare. Officers eventually talked her down and traffic began to unjam itself after a quarter of the day.
Criticism of the officers’ closure of the bridge erupted from all sectors of Vancouver society. Former emergency responders, angry commuters, and even politicians voiced their anger at the police for the inconvenience on the national holiday.
A human life was saved but people had missed out on barbequed ribs or felt their bladders burst in the gridlock. One prominent provincial politician gave voice to the rage.
It was Kevin Falcon, the Minister for Transportation & Infrastructure and the BC Liberal MLA for Surrey-Cloverdale. Falcon had scathing words regarding the whole incident, speaking on the behalf of many commuters in his hometown of North Vancouver.
“I am utterly perplexed how it can take six hours to deal with an elderly female,” said Falcon at the time. “I think this is a good example of how not to do things.”
It was tough talk. Falcon was famous for it during his 12 years as an MLA. The executive director of the Coast Mental Health Foundation would defend the VPD’s decision to close the bridge. He described Falcon’s words as unbecoming of a leader. Three years later, Falcon would lose his bid to become leader of the BC Liberal party to Christy Clark. Two years later, he was out of politics entirely.
Things are much different in 2021. The once-powerful BC Liberals are almost powerless with only 28 seats in the provincial legislature while the NDP reign supreme with a parliamentary majority. Whatever goodwill Falcon gained from North Vancouver commuters for his stances on traffic jams has probably been forgotten. The NDP now hold both his hometown riding of North Vancouver-Seymour and his former seat of Surrey-Cloverdale. Both were BC Liberal strongholds until they suddenly weren’t after the snap 2020 provincial election.
A decade after his first run for leadership, Falcon has emerged to give it another go. He can think of many more examples of “how not to do things” under the current NDP government.
Falcon sounded downright pleasant over the phone for a reputed tough-talker. There was no hint of the dripping sarcasm and smooth mockery he once used to wind up the NDP in question period at the legislature in Victoria. Law and order was the first topic of our discussion.
Falcon, the one-time critic of the VPD, has now become their champion at a time when the blue are more unpopular and scrutinized than at any point in history.
“We cannot have a situation where an NDP mayor of Vancouver cuts the budget of the VPD at a time when we need more, not less, policing on the streets,” asserted Falcon, forgoing any possible endorsement from Mayor Kennedy Stewart of Vancouver.
Stewart’s squabbles with the VPD and Police Board have headlined Vancouver’s daily newspapers all year. Mayor Stewart and city council froze the VPD budget for 2021 at 2020 levels but police advocates stated that inflation and pay hikes meant the freeze amounted to a budget cut. Whatever one makes of that, Stewart should expect no Christmas cards from VPD headquarters this year. Assuming he is re-elected, Stewart should also expect a cold relationship with Falcon if the latter becomes premier.
The murder of George Floyd by law enforcement in Minnesota on May 25, 2020 resulted in protests, riots, and calls to defund the police across the United States. Like all great American movements, it swiftly echoed in Canada. Activists and politicians called for the defunding and abolishing of police departments from Montreal to Maple Ridge. I asked him if he opposed the movement.
“Absolutely,” replied Falcon in a tone more firm and resolute than at any point in the entire interview. “What we have to understand is that we are asking the police to do things that they are absolutely not trained or skilled to do: dealing with the mentally ill, for example, or dealing with violent, unpredictable drug addicts.”
He praised the VPD for highlighting the rising assaults that Vancouver residents have experienced. Falcon pointed to the fact that an average of four people are being attacked by strangers every day in Vancouver. Coincidentally, violent crime rose in Vancouver in the eight years since Falcon left office in 2013.
Voters can expect Falcon to be the candidate of law and order if he becomes the BC Liberal leader and face off against John Horgan in an election. In a 2020 Ipsos poll, a bare majority of 51% of Canadians supported defunding police in some way. Falcon evidently doesn’t mind standing on the side of the 49% opposed. After all, a candidate only needs 44% of the popular vote to win a majority in a BC provincial election. He can certainly depend on the growing voter block of voters mugged by strangers on the street.
Falcon had much to say about the NDP government’s approach to tackling addiction in places like Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
“The current NDP government approach is all focused on providing safe places to shoot up and providing safe drugs and heroin to addicts,” said Falcon. “I would argue that that may be part of the solution, but they’re missing out the biggest part, which is actually having programs to get people off of their addictions so that they can be contributing members of society again.”
Falcon was once embroiled in controversy as BC’s Minister of Health in 2009. 90 agencies who worked with the Vancouver Coastal Health Region were ordered to reduce costs. Falcon insisted the changes would actually improve service for people dealing with issues of mental health and addiction. It was just over a year since the jumper-gate episode on Canada Day and Coast Mental Health once again chastised Falcon’s actions, calling the reductions both “incomprehensible” and “staggering”.
Like crime rates, deaths from drug overdoses in BC skyrocketed almost immediately after Falcon left office in 2013. Whatever effect Falcon’s cuts to health agencies had on the drug epidemic, the NDP government has presided over an increase in overdose fatalities since being elected in 2017, especially in northern BC where the fatalities have almost tripled in the four years of Horgan as premier. Fentanyl is the culprit, not Horgan, but the rising deaths do him no favours and provide plenty of ammo for BC Liberals like Falcon.
Premier Horgan has also presided over growing resentment towards his government among climate activists over his approach to the Fairy Creek blockades, among many other reasons. He has scolded them, told them to go home, and labelled them as anarchists.
For a politician intent on law and order, Falcon initially sounded like an absolute moderate when discussing Fairy Creek. Indigenous and non-Indigenous activists have spent months attempting to protect parts of southern Vancouver Island’s old growth forests from logging.
“I don’t in any way critique young people and those that are protesting against old growth logging or transmission power lines or oil pipelines,” Falcon stated in an earnest tone.
“The most important right they have is the right to protest,” he continued before sharply switching to a sterner timbre. “Where I draw the line is they do not have the right to break the law and ignore the law.”
Falcon had more to say on other environmental and climate movements in BC. The Extinction Rebellion has blocked traffic on major bridges in Vancouver for years as have protests against pipelines across BC. Falcon did not let it go unmentioned in his tangent on enforcing the law.
“Whether it’s blocking roadways or bridges…whether it’s Fairy Creek or whether it’s protesting all pipelines, you do it legally, you do not have the right to break the law,” Falcon declared. “Our job as a provincial government is to enforce the law,”.
It is unlikely Fairy Creek will become a lightning rod in a potential matchup between Kevin Falcon and John Horgan as they’re in relative agreement that the activists there need to leave.
“My biggest concern with Fairy Creek is that this is a project that the First Nations are overseeing,” said Falcon. “I’m very concerned about the trend that I see whereby we say to the First Nations here, we’re going to turn over some rights to you so that you can create economic opportunity for your peoples and then the very moment that they try to do that, you have a group of third party individuals come and try and say they can’t do that.”
This statement echoes Horgan when the premier told the activists at Fairy Creek to respect the wishes of the Pacheedaht and “go home.” Nonetheless, Falcon was predictably highly critical of the NDP’s handling of the affair that has dragged on for over a year.
“I don’t think the NDP has done a good job there,” said Falcon. “I think they’ve left the First Nation to have to try and manage this crisis themselves and I don’t think that’s been appropriate.”
Falcon is also a backer of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, though this is hardly a unique position anymore. The federal government liked Trans Mountain so much they even bought it for billions after the original owners got cold feet after legal challenges and Indigenous and pressure from climate activists. Premier Horgan once vowed to fight the pipeline but washed his hands of the struggle once the courts ruled construction of the pipeline could go forward.
A stalwart supporter of the energy industry in BC, Falcon is nonetheless proud of his party’s implementation of Canada’s first carbon tax in 2008. He attacked the NDP’s use of the carbon tax as a bastardization of its intended use.
“Every dollar that was generated through the revenue neutral carbon tax had to be returned to the public,” said Falcon. “They changed the legislation that they’ve turned it into a tax wrap, meaning that all the revenues now go into government and the NDP government spends it how they see fit and I think that was a fundamental breach of contract that we have with the public.”
The provincial carbon tax is something of an ace-up-the-sleeve for the BC Liberals when it comes to defending their record on the climate. Most candidates in the BC Liberal race have made no bones about expressing their deep pride in the carbon tax which stands out among Canada’s right-of-centre political parties. Can you imagine Jason Kenney saying that?
“It (the carbon tax) is something I’m very proud of,” Falcon beamed. “We were the first government in North America to do so. And it’s something that I’ll always be proud of.”
As I planned to wrap up the interview, Falcon informed me Aaron Gunn’s application to enter the BC Liberal leadership race had just been rejected.
To briefly describe Gunn, he is a Vancouver Island-based right-wing journalist and activist with an impressive following by local standards. His proposed platform is classic, old-school conservatism: pro-energy, pro-police, cracking down on activists, and ending safe drug distribution among many others.
There are more than a few similarities between Kevin Falcon and Aaron Gunn. Both of them want to change the name of the BC Liberals. Gunn is brazenly right-wing by Canadian standards. Falcon was labelled as one of the BC Liberals’ “most right-leaning senior figure” by the right-lurching National Post in 2012. Both champion pipelines and law enforcement.
They diverge on the carbon tax that Falcon is proud of and Gunn loathes. They also differ in that Falcon is an approved candidate and Gunn is not. According to Rob Shaw of CHEK News , it was Gunn’s Twitter posts about residential schools this past year that resulted in his rejection.
The Twitter posts in question were not specified but one stands out as a likely suspect. The post on Gunn’s feed from August declared that John A. MacDonald’s role in creating residential schools did not constitute genocide. According to Kevin Falcon, the committee is very thorough. Evidently, they look for anything they deem will embarrass the party.
“They go through your criminal record check. They go through a credit check. They go through all your social media posts,” explained Falcon. “I will stand by whatever decision they make.”
The committee decided Gunn’s social media posts were simply too offensive to be a candidate, certainly more offensive than anything Falcon has said or done. Conservative British Columbians shouldn’t be too sad though, as long as they can stomach a permanent carbon tax. Falcon will defend the cops, back the pipelines, and crackdown on those pesky climate activists. Like his rather unfinished-looking campaign website says, “Lets Go!”.
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