Vaughn Palmer: Kevin Falcon emerged unscathed from byelection mudslinging, but has more challenges ahead

“I get that they’re going to try to criticize my record. But I’m here to talk about their record.” — Kevin Falcon on the BC NDP

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VICTORIA — Late in the Vancouver-Quilchena byelection campaign, BC Conservative candidate Dallas Brodie launched a provocative radio and internet advertising campaign targeting Kevin Falcon.

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Kevin Falcon is a longtime supporter of carbon taxes, said the ad.

Kevin Falcon openly rebuked veteran BC Liberal MLA Mike de Jong for endorsing populist sensation Pierre Poilievre for leadership of the federal Conservatives.

The message: Falcon was only pretending to be a fiscal Conservative.

“Kevin Falcon and Justin Trudeau are two sides of the same Liberal coin,” it declared.

The Conservatives were trying to reestablish a presence in a riding where they had not run a candidate in recent provincial elections.

Brodie managed almost seven per cent of the vote in the results released Saturday night.

It was only enough to dent the BC Liberal showing. Falcon finished with just short of 59 per cent of the votes cast.

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But seven per cent of the vote could make the difference in close contests, were that share to be siphoned from the BC Liberal column, as the Liberals themselves fear.

The Conservatives ran a dozen-and-a-half candidates in 2020. In four ridings, their vote count exceeded the NDP margin of victory over the Liberals.

In the 2017 election, the Conservative candidate in Courtenay-Comox famously — or infamously, as the Liberals would have it — took enough centre-right votes to cost then Premier Christy Clark her legislative majority and put John Horgan on track for the premier’s office.

The Conservative presence brightened Saturday’s results for the New Democrats. So did the drop in support for the Greens, who slid from 15 per cent of the vote in 2020 to 10 per cent in this by election.

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Otherwise, the governing party did not have much else to celebrate.

Governments rarely win by elections, especially in safe seats for the Opposition.

Yet the New Democrats invested considerable time and resources in attacking Falcon, albeit not from the direction chosen by the Conservatives.

Falcon to Trudeau Liberal?

Nope, he’s an extreme right winger to hear the New Democrats tell it.

Day after day, they paraded out the dark side of his previous time in government (2001-12) — a record of cutting programs and closing services, along with hefty tax cuts for the rich.

Jeanette Ashe with her husband Kennedy Stewart and dog Fergus on Dunbar Street in Vancouver on Saturday, April 30, 2022. Ashe was the BC NDP candidate in the Vancouver-Quilchena byelection.
Jeanette Ashe with her husband Kennedy Stewart and dog Fergus on Dunbar Street in Vancouver on Saturday, April 30, 2022. Ashe was the BC NDP candidate in the Vancouver-Quilchena byelection. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Despite the best efforts of the flush-with-cash party, several cabinet ministers, and the premier himself, the New Democrats fell five and a half points short of their best-case scenario of a 30 per cent share of the vote.

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In what passed for a concession speech broadcast live on Global TV Saturday night, NDP candidate Jeanette Ashe bypassed the usual congratulations and went after Falcon again, saying the mere mention of his name “brings up all kinds of memories.”

Ashe is the chair of the political science department at Douglas College and told the crowd that she’d gotten into the race at the urging of one of her students.

Perhaps her remarks were intended to illustrate the growing tendency in politics to demonize one’s opponent.

They were certainly not a teachable moment in the art of losing gracefully.

Premier John Horgan did post congratulations to Falcon on social media: “I look forward to the robust debates and finding ways we can work together for everyone in BC”

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More of the former than the latter I expect.

Falcon, in a brief victory speech, thanked the other candidates and his own campaign team, then got on with the Opposition job of holding government to account.

“I get that they’re going to try to criticize my record,” he told supporters, “but I’m here to talk about their record.”

Immediate targets: the shortage of family doctors, health care waiting lists, and housing affordability, a breakthrough issue for the New Democrats in 2017 and 2020.

To make that work, the Liberal leader has to hope that voters have forgotten why they turned against his party in the last two elections.

Falcon’s baggage train is real enough. The New Democrats were just warming up their attack machine in the election, trying out lines, seeing what would stick.

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There’s plenty more where that came from.

He faces other challenges as well.

The Liberals lag well behind the New Democrats in fundraising, never having gotten over the end of the big money days in BC politics.

Falcon reiterated Saturday his goal of building “a big tent party” that welcomes everyone, “regardless of who you pray to or who you love.”

He doesn’t plan to go about it the way the New Democrats did, with an equity mandate that gave under-represented groups the inside track in nomination fights.

The NDP method was controversial, including with some party members. The backlash probably cost the party a seat or two.

But it did deliver a caucus and a cabinet that is more representative of the diversity of the province than with any previous government.

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The first test of the Falcon recruitment method will unfold later this year.

There’s a looming byelection in Surrey South, where BC Liberal MLA Stephanie Cadieux has resigned to accept an appointment as the country’s chief accessibility officer.

Cadieux, a moderate Liberal and one of the most admired MLAs on either side of the house, won by a mere four points and 1,200 votes over the NDP in the last election.

Falcon will be hard pressed to recruit a better candidate and, as was the case in Quilchena, the Liberals cannot afford to lose the seat.

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