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Falcon takes aim at NDP handling of Massey Tunnel, business environment

"I'm not a super emotional person, but I get very angry at this discussion," Kevin Falcon said of the Massey Tunnel debate.
Kevin Falcon took questions from Glacier Media reporters and editors Jan. 11.

In his first major interview in 2023, BC Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon is setting his sights squarely on Premier David Eby’s NDP government for doing far too little — economically, politically and on key topics like housing and infrastructure.

Falcon, speaking with a group of Glacier Media journalists Wednesday morning, focused heavily on the transportation file — citing his experience as the province’s minister on that front from 2004 to 2009. Prime among his targets? The proposed replacement to the Massey Tunnel between Richmond and Delta, one of the key traffic bottlenecks in Metro Vancouver (and a key trade infrastructure link for port facilities at Roberts Bank.

“I’m not a super emotional person, but I get very angry at this discussion,” Falcon said, noting the NDP’s choice to terminate the Liberals’ original plan for a 10-lane bridge and replace it with a new eight-lane tunnel lacks foresight.

“It is just one of the worst amongst a litany of really bad capital decisions this government has made... Everything was in place to have a phenomenal 10-lane bridge — two lanes dedicated for transit, four lanes in each direction for commuter traffic, including the widening of Highway 99 for dozens of kilometres in each direction... Instead, what we got was a government that cancelled it, then spent years twiddling their thumbs.”

The bridge was announced in 2017 by then-premier Christy Clark, and Falcon noted there was a fixed bid in place to build the project for $900 million less than the tunnel project — currently estimated at $4.15 billion in cost. After the NDP won the 2017 provincial election, then-premier John Horgan cancelled the bridge with $100 million of preloading/power-line movement in anticipation of the project already done.

In a Westmar Advisors Inc. report released by the new government in 2018, the NDP government said that the Liberals’ 10-lane bridge “was pushed ahead without input of communities” and that the massive structure was not required.

“An immersed tube tunnel crossing of up to eight lanes is likely feasible for a new crossing and could be less expensive with fewer negative impacts,” the report said.

Delta municipal leaders this week protested the new eight-lane tunnel plan, noting that it lacks a second overpass at River Road (originally planned with the bridge) that was “critical” for local traffic access to the river crossing.

Falcon said his hope is that his party — which will soon be rebranded to become BC United — can retake office before the tunnel project completes environmental assessment, which can take more than a year to complete.

“My hope is that I can become premier before it’s too far along so that we can stop it before they get any construction work done on the actual tunnelling, and we can get back to building a bridge overpass,” he said.

Eby has committed to not call an early provincial election before the current scheduled time in 2024, but Falcon noted the Liberals will be ready whenever the writ is dropped.

Among Falcon’s other gripes with NDP’s current policy objectives include the lack of affordable transit in places like the North Shore — where high costs of living have pushed people to live further away. Falcon also took aim at Eby’s previous work on housing, noting the province’s worsening affordability and high home prices being further exacerbated by the NDP’s lack of solutions on the housing inventory front.

To that end, he noted that Eby and Horgan’s administrations have vilified investors and capital sources like real estate investment trusts (REITs) — when the aid of investment from the private sector can play a role in alleviating B.C.’s housing distress.

“This would be a classical NDP left-wing sort of thing that [says], ‘Oh, big corporations are involved in real estate, ergo that must be bad,’” Falcon said. “We have to be very, very careful about this. A lot of pension funds that make these kind of investments are what I call ‘patient capital’... A lot of these buildings need, frankly, have deferred maintenance issues. There are investments that need to be made in those so that you’ve got happy tenants.

“[These funds] have got the kind of long-term outlook on their return-on-investment with an eye to long-term capital appreciation. So I think we want to be careful not to chase out a segment of the market that’s prepared to make an investment in our real estate and rental sector.”

That overall theme of less government restrictions on investment and business operation extends to Falcon’s view on overall economics. Although he admitted the province is limited in what it can do to address rising inflation, Falcon said B.C.’s current surplus of $5 billion should be used to pay down debt, rather than being spent in ways that could contribute to further inflationary pressures.

Falcon added that the same responsible, logical approach is needed when it comes to stimulating the provincial economy through its business owners and entrepreneurs.

“I always say that business is simple,” he said. “... [The people doing business] just want to know what the rules of the game are when they go into the sandbox and do business. The problem with this government is that, when business and capital say, ‘Let’s go and make investments and try to build a company and a future,’ this government starts changing all the rules of the game — while you are in the sandbox. That’s hugely problematic.”

Falcon noted that the 20% increase in general corporate tax in B.C. in the last six years — as well as the high top marginal tax rate (53.5%) — need to change, as it makes it too challenging for the province to attract not only companies but also skilled professionals like doctors and nurses.

“I would argue that what the business community needs more than anything else is just certainty that we’re going to have a competitive field,” Falcon said. “Then we are going to allow businesses to do what they do best, which is to innovate... and be creative. Get government out of the way.”