When Kevin Falcon took over as the leader of the BC Liberal Party, he clearly wanted to put some distance between himself and an increasingly unpopular prime minister. In the process, he somehow managed to make himself even less popular than Justin Trudeau — and put the BC Conservative Party on the doorstep of power for the first time in its existence. Of all the strategic blunders in Canadian political history, his failed rebrand might be the biggest one yet.

At the time, dropping the word “liberal” probably seemed like a reasonable risk to take. Provincial Liberal parties have been in decline for some time now, and the association with Trudeau was an obvious point of confusion for a right-of-centre party that hasn’t had any formal affiliation with the increasingly left-leaning federal Liberals since 1987.

And so, in April 2023, “BC United” was born. "United, we are forging a new path not just for this party but for this province,” he said during the reveal of the new brand in April 2023. “United, we are going to tackle the tough challenges and deliver results for British Columbians. And united, we are going to seize on the incredible future that is British Columbia."

Instead, the party splintered almost immediately. The new brand, which sounds more like a mid-tier soccer franchise than a political party, invited even more confusion than the previous one. Conservative voters in the province started slowly drifting towards the BC Conservative Party, one that just happened to be led by John Rustad — a man Falcon kicked out of his own caucus in 2022.

According to a string of recent polls, Rustad’s BC Conservatives are now the most popular alternative to the NDP government, with some even putting them ahead. Oh, but it gets worse — for Falcon, anyways. After watching BC United caucus chair Lorne Doerksen switch sides to the BC Conservative Party last week, he’s now lost Surrey South MLA Elenore Sturko to them as well. One wonders how many of his remaining 25 MLAs will even want to stand for the party by the time the election is finally called.

But while BC United’s political relegation seems increasingly inevitable, it’s not yet clear whether the BC Conservative Party can actually win an election. Neither is it clear how much of its support is really being driven by Pierre Poilievre and his pledge to “axe” the carbon tax. BC United, which created the first consumer carbon tax in Canada back in 2008 under Gordon Campbell when they were still the BC Liberals, was never going to benefit from that tailwind. The BC Conservative Party, on the other hand, is an easy proxy for Poilievre and his war on the carbon tax.

Therein lies the rub, though. While Poilievre and his politics are well known now, recent polls suggest fewer than half of British Columbians can even identify Rustad. That opens the door for the BC NDP to introduce him to the rest of the province as a candidate more focused on denying climate change and undermining the LGBTQ community than addressing cost of living concerns. Based on the sorts of comments made by both Rustad and his chosen candidates in the past, they’ll have plenty to work with.

Rustad provided some fresh material in a recent conversation with The Globe and Mail’s editorial board. In it, he compared BC’s healthcare system to North Korea, promised to fire the province’s chief medical officer of health and described the NDP government’s increasingly ambitious efforts on housing as “authoritarian.” But it was his comments on climate change that will almost certainly feature in future NDP advertisements. Rustad said the science around climate is “a theory and it’s not proven,” and that “it’s not even a crisis.”

This might resonate with the more rural and resource-dependent voters he represents in northern British Columbia. It will be a much tougher sell for the suburban voters who will actually decide this fall’s election. So too will his constant culture war politicking and the questionable comments some of his party’s candidates have made about the LGBTQ community. Rustad’s party has, for example, suggested it would censor books it deems unsuitable for younger readers, echoing similar efforts in places like Florida and Texas.

Can you win a provincial election in British Columbia without taking climate change or LGBTQ rights seriously? Thanks to Kevin Falcon and his party's disastrous rebrand, we’re all about to find out.

But British Columbia is not — at least, not yet — Florida or Texas. Voters may well be tiring of some of the NDP government’s more ambitious — some might say radical — attempts at policymaking around issues such as diversity, identity and drug policy. Even so, it’s unlikely they’re looking to replace one form of radicalism with another. Can you win a provincial election in British Columbia without taking climate change or LGBTQ rights seriously? Thanks to Kevin Falcon, we’re all about to find out.

One thing that springs to mind is that actual party names don’t necessarily mean much. Not in provincial politics, at least**. There are the “extractor/ car dealer/ social conservative/ free enterprise/ anti union” coalitions (i.e. the right wingers) and the others. The BC Liberal party, individual links to the federal party notwithstanding, weren’t cut from the same cloth as the feds; the rats fleeing the SoCred ship, scuttled by Vander Zalm, squatted in the otherwise empty Liberal house. So, now the provincial right-wing has regressed with the new “climate denier” opportunity. Quelle surprise.

I can’t foresee a long life for this resurgent BC Conservative party; “thinking” partisans of the centre-right won’t stick around (just as they didn’t under Gordon Campbell, IMO). That said, however, like the federal Red Tories since Reform absconded with their party, they also might go into hiding for a decade or two. So, who knows.

“This might resonate with the more rural and resource-dependent voters he represents in northern British Columbia…”

It seems to me the split is more rural/ Lower Mainland-(southern) Vancouver Island which, I guess, equates to resource extraction/ everything else. But the reality of a resource extraction economy really needs to be addressed, across the country. In spite of current biogeophysical realities (i.e. the ecological polycrisis), short-term-profit, status quo thinking remains paramount. And voters get scared. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”*** And, as is clear with the focus on Ontario’s Ring of Fire, extraction continues to be placed centre-stage in the “green economy" saga. Not without irony, I’ll add. Perhaps we can enlist a medium to connect with Wagner and have his spirit write us a new opera.

** Exception: many Albertans have a Stephen King-ian reaction to the word “liberal”.

*** https://quoteinvestigator.com/2017/11/30/salary/?amp=1

Not only are people unable to recognize John, but I don't think he can even recognize himself. Thinking of the Abacus poll from a few weeks ago, he could be attracting a lot of younger voters that he'll lose if he attempts to push the usual conservative party agenda.

I don't know if you ever imagined hearing this, but I think the Greens actually have the perfect opportunity to steal the conservative vote. The Greens wouldn't even have to realign themselves for this, though it might be easier if they focus exclusively on Metro Vancouver and the Island (possibly Whistler and Nelson too, after looking at 2020 election results).

Since BC United is looking to finish with zero seats, the Greens could also go after their vote as well. However, Greens wouldn't be able to target New Democrats until after the other two parties are taken down.

I dunno. I'm not sure the Greens can appeal to that many Conservatives. It sounds cute, but no self-respecting climate-denying anti-science anti-gay right winger is going to vote for the tree-hugger party.

And contrariwise, if the BC NDP don't shape up the Greens could probably skim quite a few NDP votes. Liquid Natural Gas, old growth forest, for many the Site C Dam, and a general refusal to get tough on mining polluters have created an ongoing frustration among environmentally conscious NDP voters, and there are a lot of those. Contrariwise, if the NDP were to just shape up on those few files--at this point they could probably even keep Site C because most people have forgotten about it, it feels like a done deal at this point, and it's not actually a fossil fuel plant--the Greens might practically disappear, their votes folded into the NDP. Seriously, just LNG, old growth forest, and mining and the NDP would have most of the Green vote sewn up . . . WHY DON'T THEY JUST DO IT ARGH!!!

Well. My personal hope is that the "United" party fight back, the right wing vote stays split, and that leaves room for the NDP to get punished a bit by the Greens but still form government, maybe as a minority with Green support again.

Changing the name was stupid. Everyone in BC knew what the BC Liberals were, and knew they weren't the same as federal Liberals. Of course, that first bit, everyone knowing what they were, had kind of turned into a liability for the BC Liberals . . . but still, they hadn't had the kind of meltdown that led the Saskatchewan Conservatives to reinvent themselves as the Saskatchewan Party.
Making Kevin Falcon the leader wasn't smart either. Lots of people in BC know who Kevin Falcon is . . . specifically, they know he's an asshole who wants to charge them tolls. If they were going to do a rebrand and look to the future, they picked the wrong yesterday's man to do it.

It's a well known fact that the most organized BC political parties have dossiers on their legislative opponents. The BC NDP is very organized and no doubt has an extensive library on their rivals. Kevin Falcon's file is said to be very, very thick and goes way back to before he was the BC Liberal government transporation minister whose solution to climate change and urban planning was to build freeways. Like 10 lane bridges (he built the Port Mann monster) and 20+ at interchanges. That shouldn't be a surprise because his non-political career path was as a suburban real estate agent. His personal recreation activities include tearing up North Shore forest trails on a macho mountain bike. It doesn't help that he perfected the annoying habit of sneering at critics, with a tight smile more akin to a grimace. Not a likeable fellow at all.

The political landscape in BC is diversifying. But the progressive vote, though more ethically difficult with respect to LNG and old growth logging, is still fairly easily directed to the NDP. Vote splitting on the centre and left has not attained the drama that is occurring on the right, but it is a fact of life nonetheless.

The old BC Liberal megaproject corporatists got us into the LNG mess, and the old industrial labour faction under the NDP locked us in, with mega funding from the feds backing them up. The only way out of LNG now is to let international climate efforts and renewables in the export markets whittle down demand for for fossil fuels. That would be an unavoidable net loss for LNG companies, taxpayers and First Nations that bought into the dream.

The BC NDP should now stop and do some serious navel gazing on their future. There is lots of room to change their laid back attitude on logging and to adopt a more dedicated and generous climate policy, namely on ramping up their progress on building codes, electrification and transit. And also to build on their strong social justice legacy.

Otherwise, the Greens are waiting in the anteroom and are learning -- too slowly in my view -- to mature from impatient activism to economic governance. The NDP could, if it just gave it a long, hard think, accommodate the Greens to a greater degree than last time and let them take on the environmental role the NDP has particularly failed at. In other words, a coalition. This would also require the Greens to grow up and never contemplate a stupid move to take over the leadership of the NDP again by bashing in the back door.

I suggest an NDP-Green coalition would be one of the most powerful political forces for good that the province has ever seen. But the NDP and Greens have to kiss and make up first. The NDP could take the first step and ban old growth logging once and for all.