Photo Credit: VanIsle.News staff

And Now We Have Kevin

Falcon Soars to BC Liberal Leadership

After an unruly campaign full of allegations of dirty tricks, the BC Liberals elected Kevin Falcon on the 5th ballot

Sixteen months ago, Andrew Wilkinson stepped down as the leader of the BC Liberal Party. Eight candidates put their names forward to replace him. 

After an unruly campaign full of allegations of dirty tricks, the BC Liberals picked Kevin Falcon to be their new leader. He beat seven challengers (more on that later).

It was not an inspiring campaign. The party’s decision to reject extremist Aaron Gunn was the most interesting part.

Arguments between the candidates over campaign spending, membership sales, and foul play to suppress votes were the most newsworthy events. As Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer wrote, “[a]s leadership races go, this one generated mostly bad publicity, when it generated any publicity at all.”

After 16 months, four debates, countless rallies, emails, tweets, and way too many speeches about party renewal-rebooting-rebranding, the front-runner Kevin Falcon won the leadership on the fifth ballot. He took just over 52% of the available points.

The BC Liberals use a ranked ballot for members to choose their leader. Ellis Ross, current MLA from Skeena and former elected chief councillor for the Haisla Nation, finished second with almost 34% of the vote. Michael Lee, MLA for Vancouver-Langara, was third with about 14%. Stan Sipos, Renee Merrifield, Gavin Dew, and Val Litwin were dropped from the field on each of the first four ballots.

This was Falcon’s second run for leadership. He narrowly lost the 2011 BC Liberal leadership race to Christy Clark. The former Finance Minister under both Campbell and Christy Clark left politics a decade ago to spend more time with his young family and work in the private sector.

Since leaving politics, Falcon has been working as an executive with Anthem Capital, a financial services firm with deep investments in property and the mining sector. 

As the perceived front-runner from the beginning, Falcon weathered attacks that he was the status-quo candidate in a party that every candidate agreed was in desperate need of renewal. 

Falcon acknowledged this from the victory stage, saying, “We have a lot of work to do. That includes a root-to-branch rebuild.”

The party gained more than 20,000 members during the leadership process, bringing its total membership to about 43,000. 

Michael Lee’s tweet about dirty tricks

The spike in new members was one of the campaign’s hottest issues.

Five of the six losing candidates complained about problems with new party memberships. Liberal party member Vikram Bajwa filed a last-minute petition to the BC Supreme Court to delay the release of the ballot results. The judge rejected the request just hours before the winner was scheduled to be announced. 

But many of the candidates said something was fishy with those memberships.

Renee Merrifield fired off an angry letter to supporters. “Over the last few weeks, there has been a tremendous amount of scandal associated with the voting and the memberships of our party. I have not wanted to comment publicly… But I can’t sit silent anymore…I fear that democracy could be taken from us.” 

Merrifield said the party leadership gave her “assurances that specific and effective measures would be put in place to counter any attempts at trying to steal this leadership race.” But “checks and balances are not in place,” she said.

Candidate Michael Lee also raised concerns about dirty tricks. He sent out a tweet claiming that a “phone number is impersonating the BC Liberal Party election office & sending false/invalid voter codes to racialized members.”

Lack of concrete policies that will help Islanders

Under his leadership, Falcon said the party will be known for bold policies and goals. 

But he didn’t explain what this would be during the campaign. Falcon mainly ran on his track record with vague promises about mental health, the environment, and housing affordability.

Although mentioning the problem repeatedly, Falcon proposed no bold solutions for people who are desperate for affordable places to live. Like most of the candidates, he vowed to fast-track construction by overriding municipalities’ nimbyism.

In our earlier coverage of the leadership race, VanIsle asked two questions: 

1 – Should Islanders care who the next BC Liberal leader is?

2 – How will new leadership affect Islanders?

Unfortunately, even though the campaign is over, we still don’t have answers to these questions.

Falcon didn’t talk much about the issues facing VanIsle, particularly the rural areas in the north and west. He proposed no solutions to the downturns in the logging and fishing industries.

He also has no plans to create more rental housing or slow the skyrocketing price of real estate. His answer to the labour shortage was to encourage immigrants to settle down outside the lower mainland.

In any healthy democracy, it’s important to have an opposition party that can keep the ruling party on its toes. The opposition party can ask hard questions about plans and policies. They raise the alarm when the ruling party does something foolish.

Maybe now that the BC Liberals have a leader they can start to act like an opposition party again.

But from what they showed us in their leadership race, it’ll be a while before they’re ready to actually lead.