Kevin Falcon returned to BC politics in February after a nine-year absence to find a political landscape far different from the one he left in 2013.
Instead of being the deputy premier and finance minister in a BC Liberal government, like when he left, he’s now Opposition leader of a party weakened by two election losses.
But of all the differences, perhaps none is more striking than the dramatic rise in political toxicity, online attacks, social media bullying and even death threats facing politicians from all parties.
It can’t continue, Falcon said in a wide-ranging interview with Daily Hive at his Victoria legislature office.
“One of the changes I’d like to bring about is changing the law that says we get to unmask those folks and reveal them for the cowards that they really are,” he said.
“Force through law the companies to allow us to strip away their anonymity and find out who these cowards are, because it’s totally unacceptable and I don’t like that trend of people thinking they can say outrageous things to individuals in public life.”
It’s not entirely clear if a future BC government could force social media giants, like Twitter, to unmask anonymous accounts used to incite hate and violence against politicians. The internet is regulated federally, and even then individual countries are often unable to influence worldwide platforms.
But it’s worth trying, said Falcon. Because it’s getting more difficult to convince young, talented people to enter politics when they face the prospect of an overwhelming stream of online abuse, he said. “We have an obligation to try and make it easier for good people to enter public life.”
Falcon’s proposal comes after the home of Solicitor General Mike Farnworth was targeted by anti-vax protesters, who posted the live feed online, Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier received death threats, BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau had to move her constituency office due to safety issues, and journalists were spat on or mobbed when trying to report on anti-vax protest rallies.
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“I’m really concerned about the criticism of women in all fields, frankly, they get just horrific, misogynistic, sexist, appalling attacks made on them all the time,” said Falcon.
“And I’d love to bring about the kind of changes that unmask the anonymity of people that think they can attack women in public life or in journalism, or in you know, any field of endeavour anonymously.
“I just think we have an obligation to try and, you know, make it easier for good people to enter public life.”
Falcon has one shot to influence the political discourse, recognizing, like many modern party leaders, he either wins the next election or will be forced to resign.
He said he intends to use the strong mandate delivered by BC Liberal members in last month’s leadership vote in two ways: Tone down the political rhetoric that is increasingly dividing voters, and remake the party into a more inclusive and modern political force.
“We’re at a time where leaders really have to work hard and watch their language very carefully and make sure we’re bringing people together not dividing in an era of social media, where it’s so easy for algorithms to bring people apart and create tribes,” he said.
“It’s something that I very much want to do. I have to do a good job as an opposition leader – that means I have to be constructively critical at the NDP, and I will be, but it won’t be personal. It will be based on misguided policies.”
The shift in tone comes after a 2020 election in which former BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson was so worried about holding the party’s coalition tent of Liberals and Conservatives together he was slow to call out intolerance and homophobia by candidates like Laurie Throness.
“We’re going to be very, very tolerant and accepting of the LGBTQ community and those from whatever socio-economic background,” said Falcon. “We want them all involved in this party. And I will tolerate no intolerance.”
The BC Liberals will rebrand with a new name, something Falcon said he’d like to have done “by this year, if we can.”
Falcon will also face the challenge of reintroducing himself to a new generation of voters, including those who have moved to BC in the last decade and an ever-changing, ever-growing, diverse Metro Vancouver electorate.
New Democrats have been quick to label him as an out-of-touch elitist, who profited on BC’s housing crisis through a post-politics career at Anthem Capital, an investment and development company.
“I wonder about a party that chooses a man, Kevin Falcon, who is undeniably a speculator, to lead them into better housing policy,” Housing Minister David Eby recently said in the legislature’s question period.
Falcon has countered by saying his private-sector experience is an asset to help the government better-tackle an affordability crisis on housing, rent, gasoline and household goods that has only worsened under five years of Premier John Horgan’s government.
“If results matter at all to British Columbians, and I think they do, they are getting the worst possible results in virtually every single measurement that has to do with affordability,” he said. “We have to have different approaches to get different results.”
The importance of a good work-life balance
At 59, Falcon said he’ll also be seeking a better work-life balance for himself and his MLAs than under former premiers Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark, where the workload was crushing. He said he helps relax by being a frequent fixture on North Vancouver hiking trails, with his wife Jessica and daughters Josephine, 12, and Rose, nine.
“I also love mountain biking,” he said. “A lot of people may not know that about me, that, if I do say so myself, a reasonably accomplished mountain biker riding a lot of the black diamond trails in the North Shore. I was just out the other weekend doing Crinkum Crankum, and Natural High and a bunch of great, great runs that they have in the North Shore, Ladies Only.”
Still, the transition from government minister to Opposition leader has been “frustrating” at times, he said, because your job is to criticize government policies without the ability to enact actual change.
When he returned to the legislature last month, for the first time in nine years, Falcon said he paused outside the 122-year-old building for a moment.
“I asked myself, very briefly, why am I doing this again?” he said.
“But it’s very easy to answer that question. I just have to take a second to remind myself. It’s because I have two young girls that are nine and 12. And I’m thinking about that next generation.
“I am not doing this job because I need it. I’m not doing this job because I need to see my name in the news or the media. It is because I care a lot about leadership and competence. And I think that British Columbia needs more of both.
“That’s a good place to be in life when you are doing things unburdened by the worries about how people will view you or what they think about you. When you’ve got a clear mission and purpose like that, it’s very liberating.”