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Opinion: New BC Liberal leader branded as 'yesterday's man' - can he shed that baggage?

Kevin Falcon wins leadership
Kevin Falcon was an MLA for almost 12 years, until 2013.

For newly-elected BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon, now comes the heavy lifting.

Falcon was chosen party leader this past weekend, and as expected it was not even close. He received 47% of the “points” on the first ballot, besting his nearest competitor (Skeena MLA Ellis Ross) by more than 20 percentage points.

He eventually won on the fifth ballot, under the preferential ballot system (in which voters rank the candidates and make second, third etc. choices).

In his victory speech, Falcon acknowledged his party faces a monumental challenge when it comes to offering more diversified group of candidates to the voters come the next election. He said the party needs a “root-to-branch rebuild.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has not been kind to the party, or indeed to most non-government political parties anywhere. Traditional politics and many bread-and-butter issues have been elbowed off the agenda as the public grapples with an ongoing public health crisis that has cost so many people their jobs, their health or even their life.

But while the BC Liberals and their new leader are staring at a rough road ahead, they have every reason to think the next few years will be much better for them than the last two have been.

While we are still in a pandemic and may be for a while, various COVID-19 health restrictions are easing or are being lifted. Perhaps, as we try to return to “normal,” politics in their traditional form also return to their usual place in the public consciousness.

After almost two years of looking to government as almost a saviour, in terms of managing both economic responses and public health measures, I think the public is slowly shifting to a different mindset. One in which the government no longer automatically gets the benefit of the doubt on almost anything.

The B.C. legislature resumed sitting this week and it will be interesting to see if its proceedings – a new budget, daily question period, and new legislation – will receive more media coverage than we have seen in any legislature session held during the pandemic.

The BC Liberals will certainly need the channel changed away from a near-constant focus on COVID-19 and the pandemic and onto more traditional issues. They need the voting public to once again pay attention to what they have to say about things.

Of course, Falcon will have to move fast to mend the messy internal divisions that were on public display during the lengthy leadership race. The three MLAs who were also candidates – Renee Merrifield, Michael Lee and Ellis Ross – were harshly critical of Falcon, labelling him as yesterday’s man who had accumulated too much political baggage from his previous stint in government.

Look for the NDP to exploit that “baggage” at every opportunity. In fact, no sooner had Falcon taken the stage to deliver his victory speech on Saturday night, than the NDP caucus merrily issued a news release talking about just that kind of thing.

But the baggage issue can work both ways. The longer the NDP stays in power, the more baggage it accumulates as well.

In any event, Falcon’s ascension to the leadership is the start of a new chapter in B.C. politics. Let the heavy lifting begin.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

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