Kevin Falcon delivered his last speech as the leader of the BC Liberal Party at a Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce luncheon today (April 12).
Falcon, who at 6 p.m. will announce the rebranding of the BC Liberals to BC United, spoke before 100 paid guests at the Vancouver Golf Club in Coquitlam.
The leader of the Official Opposition — and former minister of the health and transportation portfolios — touched on themes of the economy, affordable housing, crime and healthcare.
Falcon also fielded questions from the business crowd on the upcoming minimum wage increase, development costs to municipalities, food recovery programs and cement procurement.
Among the dignitaries at the Lunch with Leaders series event were NDP MLAs Selina Robinson (Coquitlam–Maillardville), Rick Glumac (Port Moody–Coquitlam) and Fin Donnelly (Coquitlam–Burke Mountain); Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart; Belcarra Mayor Jamie Ross; former Burquitlam MLA Harry Bloy; and former mayors Greg Moore and Mike Clay.
Before he began, Falcon gave a heads-up to the local NDP MLAs — seated at a front table — that they wouldn’t like his speech.
The MLA for Vancouver–Quilchena focused on accountability, “results” and “outcomes” — accusing the current NDP government of making life unaffordable for British Columbians by introducing two dozen new taxes during its mandates.
With Robinson, the NDP’s former finance minister, dressed in bright yellow and to his left, Falcon dug into the NDP’s debt levels that, he claimed, will burden future generations.
“Government,” he said, “should be working alongside you, not working against you.”
Falcon also questioned the 30 per cent hike in government spending, asking the Chamber audience, “Has anybody seen an improvement in government? Why aren’t we getting the outcomes that we deserve?”
On affordable housing, Falcon also took shots at Robinson, the former minister of municipal affairs and housing in whose constituency Falcon was speaking.
Falcon said the province now has the most expensive housing in North America, and rents are the highest in the country. “These are not good results,” he said.
He quoted a poll that indicated 75 per cent of young people in B.C. have given up hope of owning a house. “We have to understand that supply is a big part of this challenge. We have to work with local governments.”
Falcon pointed to the western skyline, saying that — with the developer Anthem — he helped to create high-rises in the Lower Lougheed area, around public transit. “Coquitlam is a leader in building affordable housing,” he said.
And he tossed Premier David Eby’s proposal to remove municipal zoning requirements for small developments of up to four units on a single lot; if that policy goes ahead, he warned, it would add to traffic congestion in neighbourhoods and put pressure on aging infrastructure.
Urban sprawl is not the way to go, he said.
Falcon also pulled a punch at Port Moody for failing to accept growth, chiding the city that “has got a long way to go… Every community has got to pull its weight” on housing.
Falcon also zeroed in on the Red Fish Healing Centre for Mental Health and Addiction, a facility located at səmiq̓wəʔelə/Riverview Lands in Coquitlam — and also in Robinson’s constituency — saying it needs to triple in size so patients “shouldn’t have to be left to their own devices.”
He’d like to see similar facilities available in all B.C. health regions where vulnerable people can get treatment and recover, “not just be issued with government-supplied drugs. We are going to make sure that these folks that are struggling with challenges have better care,” Falcon said, referring to the party’s Better is Possible slogan.
Falcon also promised money for Chambers of Commerce and Business Improvement Associations to boost small businesses and fight crime.
Meanwhile, Leslie Courchesne, the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce CEO, told the crowd that the organization is now at an all-time record high of 1,100 members. Its Business Excellence Awards Gala is on April 29 at the Hard Rock Casino Vancouver in Coquitlam.