BC United leader Kevin Falcon paid his first visit to the Interior Provincial Exhibition (IPE) in Armstrong Friday, Sept. 1, and he brought with him his stances on a number of local issues.
Falcon spent the day with Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo, who gave him a tour of the fair grounds, introduced him to locals and — as is requisite for a visiting politician — helped him pick out a cowboy hat to purchase from a local vendor.
“I’m loving the energy that I’m seeing here, it really is great, especially given everything the Shuswap’s had to go through with fires and smoke,” Falcon told The Morning Star.
“I know (the IPE) was at risk of being cancelled at one time, I’m just so thrilled that the organizers made the right decision and said no, let’s do this.”
Falcon said it was positive to see a large economic driver like the IPE go ahead despite smoke and nearby wildfires, bringing tourists to the community over one of the busiest long weekends of the year and helping local businesses that have been hurt by the effect of wildfires on tourism.
The MLA for Surrey-Cloverdale had much to say with regards to the work that must be done in B.C. to curb the impact of wildfires each summer. He said firefighting efforts need to happen 365 days of the year.
Falcon said firefighting services are “clearly understaffed,” adding the province should have a fleet of firefighters that can be rented out to other jurisdictions in B.C.’s wildfire offseason, which would generate revenue for the province.
“There’s also a tonne of preventative work that we have to do, and what I find so very frustrating is that that work has not been done” he said.
Kyllo addressed the conflict that has arisen between BC Wildfire Service and residents in the Shuswap that stayed in evacuation order zones to protect properties, saying he was glad to hear that over the last week, BC Wildfire has worked collaboratively with “local talent” that stayed behind and “saved dozens if not hundreds of buildings.”
Both Falcon and Kyllo said the province was too slow to activate a state of emergency that would have mobilized more firefighting resources faster. B.C. Premier David Eby declared the provincial state of emergency on Aug. 18, when waves of evacuation orders were hitting the Shuswap and Central Okanagan.
“There’s a lot of private sector equipment, material and skills that could have been brought into this situation much sooner,” Falcon said.
Falcon addressed other issues affecting the North Okanagan and the province as a whole. To address the skyrocketing cost of living, he said his party “will focus relentlessly on how we reduce costs for British Columbians.”
“We have the highest housing and fuel prices in North America, we’ve got the highest average rents in the entire country right here in British Columbia, we’ve got some of the highest grocery prices, we’ve got inflation in B.C. that outpaces virtually every other jurisdiction in the country, and yet we’ve got a government that during that same period of time has also introduced or raised 29 new taxes,” Falcon said.
Falcon added he believes cutting taxes doesn’t have to crater services.
“Government needs to tighten its belt the same way everyone else has to.”
After the BC United party — formerly the BC Liberals — lost a Supreme Court battle to the BC Teachers’ Federation in 2016 over class sizes and composition, Falcon says if his party were to resume power, it would handle the education file better than in the past.
“We don’t do everything perfectly in government,” he said. “But my wife is a teacher, and I think that teachers are the most important part of our education system … We want to work with teachers and make sure they’ve got the resources they need to make sure we pay them properly, because we want to encourage people to come into the teaching profession.”
Falcon added his party would reinstate letter grades “so parents can understand exactly how their children are doing in the school system.”
Vernon has a housing vacancy rate below one per cent, and on the housing crisis, Falcon said the NDP government have been focusing “on the wrong side of the equation.”
“They focused on the demand side of the equation, not supply, and what they did is they introduced a whole blizzard of new taxes which are costs onto housing, expecting that somehow that was going to end up getting less expensive housing. Well, it doesn’t work that way.”
Speaking one day after International Overdose Awareness Day, Falcon said his party would focus their efforts to solve the toxic drug crisis on treatment and recovery, “as opposed to decriminalizing hard dangerous drugs without any guard rails, (and) as opposed to the government’s current approach of handing out free drugs to people that are struggling with addiction.”
Falcon said his party is prepared to offer free treatment and recovery programs to incentivize getting people off harmful drugs.