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Kevin Falcon And BC FC's Last Chance
On Falcon's Failures
One of the things that’s often fun to do when I step back into provincial politics – a lane I only occasionally dip into, outside my home province – is to go back and read the last thing I wrote about the place I’m writing about. And oh boy is the last thing I wrote about BC politics a stinker with 11 months of hindsight.
The BC Liberals, after years of nonsense, have returned to the land of the sane, and pose a real threat to the NDP. The NDP take that seriously, in that they knew Eby was their only shot to win.
Now let’s hope their voters do as well.
Imagine writing that. Imagine actually doing this regularly and having written that the BC Liberals pose a real threat to the NDP. Instead, the BC Liberals have renamed themselves, they’re arguably in third in the polls, and every single time Kevin Falcon opens his mouth he pisses someone off. I’ve been waiting to write this column for a while now, but I finally realized why it’s all come collapsing down on Falcon – because he’s the Jean Charest of the West.
And not the Charest who kept this country together.
At my core, and much to the objection of many in my life, I’m an electoralist to my core. I believe in winning power as the be all and end all purpose of all of this, and therefore have more time for very obviously electorally necessary compromises than many others who share my politics. So, I get the value of centrism, both as a governing principle (to stay in power) and an electoral one. But, the problem with centrism is there’s two very different kinds of it that get mixed into the same pool.
There’s a Blairite sensibility, which is to wrap a fairly radical policy agenda in the language of moderation and to pick a few fights to burnish your moderate credentials while being substantively radical, and then there’s whatever the fuck Jean Charest was trying to argue for to become CPC leader. Centrism can be a coherent policy set – Blair was a centrist, and he also passed the UK’s minimum wage and spent a lot more on education and health and child care. These notions are not incongruous.
What is incongruous is that so many people have a failed idea that centrism as an entity unto itself is electable, when what happens is we judge successful campaigns to have been centrist because they won. Trudeau’s 2015 campaign was an explicitly anti-centrist campaign and he kicked the living shit out of Mulcair’s centrist, don’t offend anyone campaign. Erin O’Toole lost seats in Calgary and Vancouver and only stayed close to Scheer’s seat total because of Atlantic Canadian gains that came in spite of, not because of, Tory centrism.
The problem for BC FC – and yes, that is what they are in these pages, I do not accept the existence of their alleged other name – is that they picked a leader who is in theory electable, but in trying to elect a leader for everybody, they picked one who just annoys everyone. Last year I wrote that Patrick Brown was the candidate for nobody in the Tory leadership, because he had flaws that prevented him from being the candidate for every wing of the party. Here, Falcon seems insistent on replicating that error, with a dash of Charest’s complete lack of compelling vision of why he wants the job.
Brown’s error was that he had flip flopped so much as PCPO leader that everyone was mad. If he became a firebreather of the right, his whipping his caucus on a gay adoption bill and adoption of the federal carbon tax would have killed him. Had he become a moderate, his months long crusade against kids being taught that gay people exist in sex ed would have been a liability. Falcon seems to be making the same mistakes, pissing everyone off in BC.
Had Falcon been intelligent he could have burnished his centrist credentials into a win – a maximalist housing offer on zoning reform, land use, working with Indigenous communities and a bit of Provincial spending to prove he’s not your typical cut cut cut draconian would have him in the game. A generous, YIMBY housing offer would see him have the room to go to his right flank full throatedly with the parental rights stuff, which would see the BC Cons deprived of a lane. Oh, and if he was attempting to outflank Eby on Housing, he’d be close to the lead, which would also kill off the Conservatives.
Instead, Falcon stands for nothing, centrism as vibes but not as a policy agenda that has any purpose. I have no idea why Falcon is in politics or what he wants power for, which is what Charest suffered from. Every successful politician – and I’ll even include Poilievre, because right now it’s successful – has a message that can be summed up in a sentence. Whether it’s Poilievre’s attack on the gatekeeping elite or Trudeau’s middle class focus while Harper ignored them, the message was clear and the voters they were trying to win were clear. What, exactly, is Falcon going for?
The problem isn’t that there’s no road from here where he could have won, it’s that he hasn’t chosen a lane. Had he wanted to win back the suburbs there was a path – essentially sacrifice margins in the Interior to the Cons, go all in on suburban homeowners, and say that the government will ensure that any new housing schemes will not lead to a situation where they’re left without help. It would also include an offer on the environment and transit that would peel off soft Greens and Dippers.
They could also go a much more full throated anti-establishment road, attempting to create an Interior-Island axis of power from which they can govern. There is, actually, a lot in common between these two places, even though the NDP has dominated the island in recent years. There’s no reason to think Falcon riding the wave of anti-establishment populism that is going to flip a half dozen Island and Interior seats Orange to Blue federally couldn’t have worked.
Instead, he’s strengthened the Cons at his own expense, Mainstreet has them in third, and there have been reports of 2 other private polls with the BC Conns above 20%. He’s had 3 answers on the “Million” march this week, and has managed to come to an answer on parental rights that has pleased nobody, and now the BC Cons have to be taken seriously, since they have two MLAs and official party status now.
What should they do from here? It’s impossible to give an answer that will win them government, because the damage is so hardwired into the system after 11 months of failure. That said, I don’t think they’re inevitably going to become the third party. They need to make a choice about who they are, and they need to make it fast.
We have seen that if a party wants to get its shit together they can do it – the Federal Liberals seem to have gotten some momentum back in recent days, and it would be shocking if they did not start in the weeks and months ahead to recover somewhat in the polls. But they decided they needed a reset and did the work of having one of their best assets take hold of their biggest fire politically and gave him the ability to listen to experts and start to fix it.
Here, Falcon has to do what he’s been avoiding for months and take a decision about the future of the party. Is it going to be a party for young professionals, social liberals, and the reasonably affluent, fuck their right flank? Or are they going to become a party of their right flank, make them indistinguishable from the BC Cons, and smother Rustad? Because doing neither ends one way - with the BC Liberals relegated to history, just like the SoCreds before them.
If Falcon wants my two cents, he needs to smother the BC Cons immediately, or else he will relegate the party to irrelevance. The damage has been done – Falcon’s ineptitude means that he will not be believed if he tries a YIMBY turn, and without one there’s no road back through suburbia. Because if the next round of polls have the Cons continuing to fight for second, BC FC’s best asset, First Past The Post, will end up being the knife that kills them.