Former B.C. Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon made a strong appeal for rapid transit expansion at a business luncheon Wednesday in Surrey and hinted at discomfort with Premier Christy Clark’s decision to submit new TransLink taxes to a referendum.
The former deputy premier, who is now executive vice-president of real estate firm Anthem Capital, repeatedly underscored the importance of new transit lines, crediting them for the “phenomenal” growth of private sector investment along the SkyTrain and Canada Line systems.
“My preferred approach has always been to just build things,” Falcon told the joint meeting of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association and Surrey Board of Trade.
Falcon said he would not disclose all of his thoughts about the transit funding referendum because he did not wish to create controversy.
“I don’t like the fact that so much time has to pass under a referendum scenario when we could actually be moving projects forward and getting them done,” Falcon said.
“I am very hopeful that, however it happens, senior governments make the dollars available and TransLink is able to get that done.”
He said Anthem is part of a billion-dollar five-tower development at Metrotown to build 1,850 condos over 450,000 square feet of commercial space, adding such projects would never happen without the impetus of SkyTrain.
Falcon also fired a shot across the bow of Surrey’s municipal election contenders, advising them not to be too fixated on their choice of light rail technology.
All three main mayoral candidates and slates back the ground-level light rail system championed by retiring Mayor Dianne Watts over an elevated SkyTrain system.
Falcon said it’s more important that new transit lines are built than what type they are and that it’s crucial to get a strong business case to secure not just provincial but also federal funding.
“Be a little careful not to be too determinative as to what form it should take,” he said.
There were strong calls to instead use light rail on both the Canada Line and Evergreen Line, he said, but noted the Canada Line’s success is indisputable with more than 120,000 riders carried a day.
Falcon is best known for pushing through billions of dollars in road and bridge infrastructure projects in B.C., including the new Port Mann Bridge and South Fraser Perimeter Road.
He also served as finance minister and health minister before his failed run for the BC Liberal leadership after Premier Gordon Campbell stepped down.
Falcon also offered some other advice to cities.
He suggested they adopt “core review” principles used by the BC Liberal government early in its mandate to determine what municipal functions could be performed better in other ways, possibly by the private sector.
He noted the transportation ministry once had more than 5,000 direct employees, a number that had fallen to 1,200 when he left as minister.
He was also critical of long waits of three to five months for permits for even basic commercial renovations.
Permitting at city halls shouldn’t just be geared to policing the bad apples of the construction world, Falcon said, urging cities to consider a system that rewards best practices.
“Why can’t we think about having a Nexus lane for people who’ve demonstrated that high degree of quality within our communities?” he asked. “Make sure they are getting through quickly so there’s an incentive to do things right.”