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BC Politics

Falcon Stumbles, Again, in Doomed Talks with Conservatives

The belated effort hurt his party, and undermined democracy.

Paul Willcocks 28 May 2024The Tyee

Paul Willcocks is a senior editor at The Tyee.

If not for missteps, Kevin Falcon would be pretty much immobile.

The most brutal was his catastrophic plan to change the party’s name from BC Liberals to BC United.

But his mishandling of the unexpected rise of John Rustad’s Conservatives is a close rival. And a sharp warning for anyone complacent about the risks to democracy in B.C.’s current political landscape.

Falcon has dismissed the Conservative threat since Rustad — kicked out of BC United for his climate views in 2022 — set out to revive the party. Falcon maintained it’s a fringe party with sketchy views and a sketchier candidate, and without organization or money. (Though money will flow in now that the Conservatives are outpolling BC United. Donors want to back potential winners.)

Falcon rejected, according to Rustad, a December proposal from the Conservatives that the two parties co-operate.

This month all that changed. United launched secret talks between the two parties on a non-competition agreement in this fall’s election.

BC United’s proposal was based on a fantasy in which it could dictate terms, rather than the reality that it is trailing the Conservatives dramatically in the polls and has very few safe seats.

It called on the parties to agree not to attack each other during the campaign.

The proposal also stated that United and Conservatives would carve up the province and agree not to run candidates against each other.

That would start with protecting MLAs from each party seeking re-election, a benefit to 15 BC United MLAs and two Conservatives. A proposal that makes no sense for Rustad and company. (It’s notable that 42 per cent of BC United MLAs have chosen not to run again.)

Then the remaining ridings would be divvied up in a draft, with the Conservatives getting extra choices in the first rounds to make up for the gap in incumbent MLAs. Think the NFL draft for political careerists.

Ultimately, the Conservatives would run in 47 ridings and United in 46.

If the two parties won more seats than the NDP, they would form a coalition government under BC United’s proposal.

The premier would be either Falcon or Rustad, depending on which party won the most seats. The loser would be deputy premier and get a senior cabinet job. Cabinet posts would also be divvied up based on seat counts.

Not democracy

It’s an easy deal for Rustad to turn down, with all the benefits to United.

And it’s not democracy. Voters would be denied the chance to support the party of their choice in half the provincial ridings, based on a backroom quid-pro-quo deal. The same for the chance to choose their premier.

Falcon and Rustad have both made much of the important differences between their parties.

Even while the co-operation talks were underway, Falcon ruled out a merger because the Conservatives were too extreme.

“I can't merge with a party that has candidates that equate vaccination with Nazism and apartheid,” he said. “Or candidates that say getting a vaccine shot, a COVID-19 shot, is going to turn you into a magnet.” (In fact, outspoken anti-vaxer Stephen Malthouse was dropped as a candidate hours after being nominated.)

While not a merger, the proposed deal is the next best thing. And it could well have ended with the demise of the former BC Liberals, in the same way the federal Progressive Conservative party was taken over by the Reform/Alliance axis.

That seems likely in any case, but Falcon shouldn’t be facilitating his own party’s erasure.

The big winner is NDP Leader David Eby. He faces a divided centre-right, with Conservatives and United likely to be exchanging insults until the election. Rustad set the tone after talks failed. “Falcon is clearly irrational and unreasonable and prepared to lie,” he said. “This makes it impossible to trust anything he says.”

And he can point to the talks — and earlier reports that unidentified “business leaders” were trying to recruit Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West to lead a united centre right party — as evidence the right is desperate to regain power.

In fact, he already has, in a speech on May 15, the last day of the legislative session.

“Powerful interests are trying to arrange a marriage of convenience between downtown lobbyists working for the wealthiest British Columbians… to protect their interests,” Eby said. “Well, I’ve got a message for those lobbyists and for John Rustad and Kevin Falcon. The next election will be decided at the kitchen table. Not at the boardroom table.”

It’s a good line of attack. And you’re going to be hearing a lot in the next five months.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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