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Opinion: Can anyone stop Kevin Falcon from winning the BC Liberal leadership race?

Next leader announced Feb. 5
Kevin Falcon Headshot
Kevin Falcon is a B.C. Liberal Leadership candidate.

The political leadership race that time forgot is limping towards the finish line and it remains unclear how much of the public will pay attention to its eventual conclusion.

The BC Liberal Party is in the midst of a leadership race (you knew that, right?) to replace Andrew Wilkinson, who stepped down after a disastrous election result on his watch last fall.

The next leader will be announced Feb. 5 and right now it looks like former BC Liberal cabinet minister Kevin Falcon is the candidate to beat.

It was hard to draw any other conclusion after watching the recent televised, virtual debate between Falcon and his six leadership rivals.

It is not exactly a field of experienced candidates and is a considerably weaker than the roster in either of the last two leadership contests held by the BC Liberals.

Falcon’s previous cabinet experience – he held the major portfolios of finance, health and transportation during Premier Gordon Campbell’s administration – separates him from the rest of the field by a considerable distance.

He is up against three current caucus members, none of whom have any experience in provincial government. The three MLAs – Ellis Ross, Michael Lee and Renee Merrifield – have fairly low public profiles.

The three other candidates – Val Litwin, Gavin Dew and Stan Sipos – are complete newcomers when it comes to politics and all appear to have little chance of emerging the victor when the votes are counted.

So can Falcon, who lost a narrow leadership contest to Christy Clark in 2012, be stopped?

There is one potential obstacle: the preferential ballot system that is being used to choose the leader. Under this system, voters rank the candidates in order of their support.

If Falcon cannot win a majority on the first count, he could stall on subsequent ballots if an anyone-but-Falcon mentality unites the supporters of the other candidates.

That could allow another candidate or two to leap frog him on subsequent ballots if he does not have strong second and third and even fourth choice support (this is what happened to Dianne Watts, the former Surrey mayor, during the 2018 leadership vote). I have to say Ross and Lee are likely the most probable to benefit from this kind of scenario.

In any event, whoever emerges victorious will inherit a badly wounded political party that is having a hard time resonating with the voting public. A significant rise in support for the NDP has chased the B.C. Liberals out of Metro Vancouver when it comes to winning legislative seats.

All of the candidates have talked about the need to “renew” and “diversify” the party. That will be easier said than done when it does not have much support in the areas in which most of the population resides.

Falcon is a good communicator, but he certainly tilts considerably to the right wing side of the political spectrum. If he takes the party too far to the right, that may make it even more difficult for it to win back support in Metro Vancouver, which seems to be gravitating away from that side of political turf.

But no matter which candidate wins, the party will face a challenge that it has never really been able to consistently conquer during this pandemic: convincing the general public to even pay attention to what it is saying.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.