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BCU Leader Kevin Falcon talks purpose, persona and his politics-free oasis

BC New Democrats have cast Falcon as a one per cent elitist, a cartoon caricature of the super rich motivated only by giving tax breaks to his friends in the development community. But when political correspondent Rob Shaw visits Falcon in his home, he discovers another person entirely.
Party leader Kevin Falcon announced the BC Liberal Party's rebrand to BC United on April 12, 2023

The first hint that there may be more to Kevin Falcon than his political stereotype comes when you pull up to his North Vancouver home — a single-level country cottage rancher dwarfed on one side by large, angular, modern monstrosity.

You’d instinctively expect the developer-turned-politician to live in that sterile concrete-and-glass McMansion, better reflecting the buttoned-down corporate persona that his political opponents paint him with on a daily basis. But instead, his is perhaps the smallest house on the block.

On the way to the door, you pass a hipster Moped resting against the tiny carport wall, a kick scooter discarded haphazardly on the front step, and a jumbled mess of children’s shoes. You stop and think: Is this even the right address?

Falcon’s wife Jessica answers the door with dried paint on her hands from her art studio, where she sells hand-drawn greeting cards featuring famous literary phrases on Etsy under a pseudonym. 

Three teenage girls go whipping by — Falcon’s daughters Josephine, 14, and Rose, 11, plus a friend there for a sleepover. Two cats, Lucky and Feather, stroll around like they own the place. Everywhere there are books, art, remnants of dried paint and artistic flourishes. Several walls have been painted with enormous images of naked goddesses, celebrating the female form.

Amidst all of this is Falcon, 61, a former deputy premier, finance minister and vice-president of Anthem Capital, now leader of the centre-right BC United party. He’s on the couch doing a crossword with one of the cats.

“Oh it’s hilarious,” he concedes, noting the disconnect from his public persona.

“It’s so funny because my wife is so great with art, she does art camps for the kids usually in the summer or during breaks.

“So what happens is the kids love coming to our house, so there’s just girls running around the house all the time, they’re rollerblading up and down the hallways.”

When this happens, the leader of His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is confined to a tiny office off one hallway, where all his papers and BC United paraphernalia are crammed onto a few shelves, as children turn the rest of the house into a neighbourhood thoroughfare.

Politics versus privacy

Very few people get to see this side of Kevin Falcon — not even many of the MLAs inside his caucus. That’s a bit of an image problem for someone who has spent 15 years in provincial politics, and now wants to be premier.

It has allowed BC New Democrats to cast Falcon as some sort of one per cent elitist, a cartoon caricature of the super rich who is motivated only by giving his friends in the development community tax breaks. 

Falcon appears cognizant he could do more to push back against this, by humanizing himself. He’s a politician in an era where everyone shares everything about themselves online, all the time.

But there is also a hesitancy at the intrusion.

It has taken literally months to set up this visit to the family home. In part, it’s because his wife Jessica isn’t particularly interested in politics. She makes him park that subject at the door. She doesn’t attend many party events, where she says everyone seems to want something from her husband. She values privacy. Her energy comes from art and artists, whereas Falcon’s derives from public interaction and the political world.

“I don’t know how he does it,” she says.

When they met in the late 2000s, Falcon was already a cabinet minister in the BC Liberal government. But she was unimpressed. They had a shared love of the outdoors, hiking the North Shore mountains and mountain biking. It created a haven at home, as Falcon navigated the high pressure world of being in the cabinet of a noted workaholic like Gordon Campbell.

“It’s nice to be able to come home and not have to talk about politics,” he says.

“You come home and it’s just the kids, it’s her and it’s art.”

You might also expect to find Falcon pacing the halls of his house in a kind of stress-induced crisis, given that polls show his party has fallen to third place behind the upstart BC Conservatives, and he’s staring down the prospect of a centre-right vote split that could let the NDP skate up the middle for a supermajority in October’s provincial election.

That does not appear to be the case. 

“I just don’t panic about these things as much as everyone else,” he says. 

“I always say I’m a walking pollster. I can feel it when I’m out. I mean, I’ve done like a dozen town hall meetings across the province. I would know if we’re in trouble if I didn’t see people showing up at those things, if I couldn’t attract good candidates, if we couldn’t raise money — if any of those things were going really badly, I’d be very nervous and there’s no way I can hide it.”

BC United raised almost $3 million last year; below the NDP’s $4.5 million but well outpacing the $433,499 raised by the BC Conservatives.

“Elections campaigns matter,” says Falcon. “Elections are when people actually start to turn their attention. I mean, six months from an election, honestly, we are kidding ourselves if we think people are paying attention.”

Falcon is convinced there’s no one big gesture he can make that will cut through the pre-election apathy. “Politics is a game of inches,” he says.

The gamble has yet to pay off

On this day, he’s trying to advance his party a few inches forward at the Vancouver Vaisakhi parade. Falcon and Eby keep their speeches to the congregation inside the Khalsa Diwan Society temple non-partisan and respectful, talking about rights, equality and history.

BC Conservative leader John Rustad uses his time to recite campaign talking points about family values, the carbon tax and addictions. He also mistakenly calls the event Diwali — a significant faux pas. Outside, Falcon shakes his head, clearly hoping his experience and connections at the event mean more than that of the inexperienced Conservatives.

For four hours he works Main Street, shaking countless hands, posing for photos and reconnecting with people in the crowd he knows by name. It becomes clear though that while people may remember his time building such things as the Canada Line as transportation minister, they don’t know much about the party name change from BC Liberal to BC United.

This significant gamble — an attempt 12 months ago to rejuvenate the party brand and differentiate it from the federal Liberals — has yet to pay off. Falcon spends his day explaining it. 

“We were formerly the BC Liberal party of Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark, and now we’re BC United,” he tells the crowd at the 91.5 FM stage.

“We used to be called the BC Liberals, we are now called BC United. Why? Because we want to unite B.C.,” he says on the Punjabi Market Collective stage.

Several people come up and say they recognize him from the BC United ad blitz currently airing on Vancouver TV and radio stations. Falcon concludes the more than $1 million the party spent on the ad buys has largely been successful. Still, there’s only 26 weeks until the election.

The magic cottage

Back at the Falcon house, the plan is to go for a late afternoon hike in the North Shore.

But when he opens the door, Josephine shouts out by way of a greeting: “Dad we are NOT going on a hike.” That seems to settle that.

It provides time to explore the backyard, where a small detached studio is the apex of the collision point of the two lives of Kevin Falcon.

“Welcome to the magic cottage,” says Jessica. It’s a studio filled with art tubes, canvasses, brushes and easels. One drawer contains her cards, drawn and painted with the motto “you are seen, you are known, you are loved.” 

She sells momento boxes and hand-stitched journals, with little tags that read “to me, you are perfect.” Some contain yoga poses. Jessica is a certified instructor and starts each morning doing yoga in a tiny loft above the master bedroom while Falcon sleeps.

On this particular day, she followed that by rollerblading along the Stanley Park seawall — an activity Falcon also engages in occasionally, if your mind can allow you to conjure him in such an scenario.

Falcon surveys the room. “When I come home from my little hell, I go to see her in the magic cottage and go, ‘ahh,’” he says.

Falcon considers this apolitical home life a strength, because it allows him to gauge what issues are top-of-mind for the friends and parents who come through his house. 

In the 2017 election, of which he was not a part, he says he was able to pick up the outpouring of support for the NDP’s $10-a-day childcare plan almost immediately. It would become a defining feature of the NDP’s electoral success.

“You get some good insight into issues that real people are dealing with,” he says.

Elsewhere, the house is still alive with energy. 

Many of the rooms have small lofts to maximize space, including in the mudroom where a vertical obstacle course for the cats gives them their own perch from which to look down upon the household.

Falcon admits he’s the primary cat person in the household. And he diverges from the NDP on this important issue: “When I’m premier, I’m going to make sure we get a cat at the legislature.”

‘They’re my everything’

The family embarks on a walk to town so the kids can get a frappuccino and meringue cookie. They pass a bookstore that Falcon jokes Jessica single-handedly keeps in business. He is stopped three times on the street by people wanting to bend his ear on issues. The girls encounter friends and make a play date.

It seems like a well-rounded life. 

“I feel honestly very, very blessed with my girls,” he says. “They’re my everything.”

Which raises the question of why he wants to upset the equilibrium by running for premier. 

He already achieved considerable success in top cabinet posts before he retired from politics. He moved on to a role in the private sector with a good salary and most weekends free for the kids.

If he wins in October and becomes premier, he’ll inherit a job that is all-consuming, takes him away from his family for large chunks of time, and pays less.

“Sometimes the girls are like, ‘Dad what are you doing?’” admits Jessica.

The family doesn’t totally understand the choice, but they know it makes him happy. He’s been involved in politics in one form or another, at various levels, for almost 30 years.

“This is his passion,” says Jessica.

His former boss at Anthem Capital had a similar question when Falcon told him he was quitting to re-enter B.C. politics in 2022.

“He’s like, please don’t leave. He tried very hard,” says Falcon. “I said, I know it makes no sense, I get it. But for me what is my purpose in life? My purpose in life is maybe I can give something back and show an example for my kids. And come what may.”

It sounds like a politician’s answer.

“I know it does,” he says. “But in my case, it’s crazy enough to be true.”

It gives him a bit of an unusual position of strength from which to approach the October election. He intends to mould the party into the one he wants, with candidates he chooses, on issues he’s selected, and let the chips fall where they may.

He still hopes he wins. But.

“If I lost the election,” he says, “it wouldn’t be the end of my world.”