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Opinion: BC Liberals level political playing field

Opposition party ends free ride that allowed governing BC NDP to coast relatively trouble-free for years.
Under new leader Kevin Falcon, the BC Liberals have turned up the political heat against the governing BC NDP | File photo

For the first time in almost five years the BC Liberals have come out of a legislature session looking much stronger than they did when it started.

The spring session ended last week and I could not help but get the sense the ruling BC NDP wanted out of the building as fast as possible.

For the past four years, the NDP has had a free ride of sorts in the house. As I have noted here before, the pandemic pushed the usual political issues aside and made it difficult for the Opposition to get much media coverage and as a result the public’s attention.

That situation, coupled with the fact the party seemed to be in denial for so long that it was no longer in government, meant the BC Liberals were dragging their heels for the longest of times (a prominent caucus member told me after Kevin Falcon was voted in as the new party leader that “the trouble with our folks is they don’t realize we are in Opposition”).

It appears those gloomy days are decidedly over.

The return of Falcon to the legislature to lead the party appears to be a big reason why the dark cloud has lifted off the BC Liberal caucus.

He is clearly a step or two above the performance of his predecessor, Andrew Wilkinson. Falcon’s aggressive and energetic approach has clearly lit a fire under his caucus.

The NDP members privately complain that Falcon is also bombastic, over the top in his attacks and is prone to spouting misleading statements. In any event, he has captured the government’s attention in ways Wilkinson was unable to accomplish.

There were occasional moments of frustration on the NDP side this session, which we haven’t really seen since the party formed power in 2017.

Some of that frustration was shown by Premier John Horgan, who dropped an infamous “f-bomb” in response to some incessant heckling from the BC Liberals.

As an aside, Horgan did not have the same dominating presence during the past session that he had in previous ones. This is totally understandable, given his treatment for cancer, but he is his government’s No. 1 asset so even a slight slippage can rub off on his caucus.

Now, all this is not to suggest the BC Liberals have completely escaped the political wilderness when it comes to actually winning elections.

The electoral demographics in Metro Vancouver – where the majority of electoral ridings are located – are changing quickly (i.e. getting younger and more ethnically diverse) and the BC Liberals have yet to show evidence they know how to tap into that changing electorate.

Judging from the make-up of their caucus, the BC Liberals tilt much more to the conservative end of the spectrum rather than the liberal end, which may make it harder to make inroads in Metro Vancouver.

And Horgan is still a popular figure, and the government appears to continue to be more popular than any of the alternatives, despite the mounting problems on its plate.

Yet Falcon and his party can finally take credit for inflicting some political wounds on their adversaries, rather than ending a legislature session by nursing their own.

The political playing field has become level again. That seemed a distant possibility when the pandemic began, but here we are.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.