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BC Politics

Can Kevin Falcon Survive BC United’s Byelection Failures?

Saturday’s results point to an easy NDP victory next year.

Paul Willcocks 27 Jun 2023The Tyee

Paul Willcocks is a senior editor at The Tyee.

What a bad weekend for Kevin Falcon. Bad enough to dismay supporters hoping for a BC United win in the next election, and to raise questions about his future as leader.

His newly renamed party bombed in two provincial byelections. In Langford-Juan de Fuca, BC Conservatives dealt Falcon a crushing blow that hints at a massive NDP majority in the election scheduled for next year.

BC United had no chance to win in the two NDP strongholds. But byelections are considered a safe chance to cast a protest vote. Usually, that means a drop in support for the party in power and a boost for the most likely replacements.

But the party formerly known as the BC Liberals failed to gain any ground in Vancouver-Mount Pleasant and finished a disastrous fourth in Langford-Juan de Fuca.

Falcon has had more than a year to build the party’s fortunes. The results offer a grim report card on his efforts.

In Langford-Juan de Fuca, the NDP won easily with 53 per cent of the vote. That’s down from the 68 per cent that former MLA and premier John Horgan captured in 2020, when his personal popularity was at its peak, but matched the party’s share in 2017.

And it was a positive result for a government struggling to deal with housing costs, health care and toxic drug deaths.

The Greens, with 18 per cent, held onto the level of support they saw in the riding’s past two elections, hopefully a reflection of the excellent work of their two MLAs in the legislature.

But on the right, an earthquake. The BC Liberals claimed 26 per cent of the vote in 2017 and 15 per cent in 2020.

In Saturday’s byelection, BC United was only supported by nine per cent of voters. And John Rustad’s BC Conservatives were far in front of them with 20-per-cent support. Which, alarmingly, came after wide reporting on the party’s extreme social conservatism.

Falcon and BC United need to attract more voters outside their northern and Interior base to win the next election. The Langford-Juan de Fuca byelection suggests they are going backwards.

The results in Vancouver-Mount Pleasant were less dramatic, but also bad for BC United. The NDP captured two-thirds of the vote as it did in 2017 and 2020. The Greens were squeezed, falling from 20 per cent in 2020 to 11 per cent.

And while BC United held its vote share at 14 per cent, it didn’t see any growth. And the BC Conservatives, which didn’t run a candidate in the last two elections, won five per cent of the vote.

Overall, a disaster for BC United and Falcon.

Falcon’s attacks on the NDP government haven’t increased support for BC United. And his attempts to demonize the NDP by condemning its commitment to life-saving programs like harm reduction have failed.

In part because the NDP has been centrist in a way that undermines the attacks. In part because BC Conservatives are winning support. And in part because Falcon, a BC Liberal MLA cabinet minister from 2001 to 2013, can’t credibly promise a fresh start for the province.

Historically, if there is one centre-right party on the ballot in B.C., it usually wins. The right’s share of the vote was solid — 54 per cent or more in four of five elections between 1991 and 2009.

That’s changing. In 2013, the right vote fell to 49 per cent; in 2017, 40 per cent; and 2020 about 35 per cent.

So even without vote-splitting, BC United faces a big challenge in the election scheduled for October 2024.

The success of the BC Conservatives shows that challenge has just become much more difficult. The BC Liberals won five ridings in 2020 by less than a thousand votes — four of them without Conservative candidates.

Rustad says the party will field candidates in every riding, which would likely result in BC United losing those five ridings and many more. The NDP currently has 57 seats in the legislature and BC United has 27. It’s easy to imagine that falling below 20 seats in 2024.

The NDP can take considerable satisfaction from the results. After six years in government, they have enduring support. And while their generally moderate policies have frustrated some of their base, they appear to be pleasing voters.

Meanwhile BC United members face some tough decisions. The party rebranding, championed by Falcon, has flopped. The outlook for the next election is grim enough that it seems risky to continue with the same leader. But there’s not much time to make a switch, and no guarantee that a leadership race would produce a better option.

A lot can change in the 16 months until the next election. But right now, BC United is in a desperate situation.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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