Falcon willing to crack the whip to diversify the big tent

By Shannon Waters May 20, 2021

BC Liberal leadership hopeful Kevin Falcon has big plans for the party. The former cabinet minister is making his second run to be party captain with an eye on rebuilding and rebranding.

In addition to choosing a new name, Falcon said the Liberal Party needs to return to “principle-based policy,” which he likened to “a North Star so that we always know where we’re going and what we stand for.”

“Around that you build new policy ideas that are going to generate enthusiasm and support amongst the broadest possible section of the populace,” he said in an interview with BC Today.

In the eight years since he left politics for the private sector, Falcon said the Liberals have lost their way.

“That’s not unusual, by the way, and it’s not meant to be a particular criticism,” he told BC Today.

The 2020 election saw the Liberals’ poorest performance in more than two decades, losing 12 seats.

Back in 2001, when the Liberals broke the NDP’s decade-long hold on government, sweeping all but two seats, the party’s platform spoke to its principles, according to Falcon, and the votes poured in.

“We laid out those commitments very, very clearly so people knew exactly where we stood, and when we got elected, we followed through on those commitments,” said the ex-Surrey MLA who served from 2001 to 2013.

In order to successfully renew itself, Falcon believes the party needs a leader capable of striking a delicate balance: someone who is neither too entrenched in the established party machinery, nor has “little track record to speak of” on the political stage.

In other words, someone like him.

But political experience often comes with political baggage. The BC NDP has been quick to take aim at Falcon’s record during his decade-long stint in cabinet, where he held portfolios including health, finance, transportation, and three years as the minister of state for deregulation. Falcon dismissed those attacks as proof of the “terror that they feel in the prospect of me becoming leader of the party.”

“If they weren’t worried about me, they wouldn’t bother and if anything, they would silently try and encourage my victory,” he said.

Conservative ties questioned
Of more concern may be Falcon’s reputation as part of the conservative wing in the Liberal Party’s big tent coalition. Critics have pointed out he backed People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier during Bernier’s run for leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Falcon told the Vancouver Sun he liked Bernier’s economic policies and his “support for the LGBTQ+ community.” Falcon said he has had no contact with Bernier since he left the federal Conservatives to found the PPC.

Since launching his leadership campaign on Monday, Falcon has emphasized the importance of diversifying the party to ensure it reflects the diversity of the province — that “British Columbians of all races, sexualities, genders, socio-economic backgrounds are going to be embraced and welcomed as part of the big tent BC Liberal Party.”

Falcon doesn’t support a candidate quota system like the one the NDP uses to boost representation among equity-seeking groups, saying the process “devalues a lot of the communities” that such mandates seek to support. Instead, the leadership hopeful would embrace an extensive outreach campaign to build new connections.

“You actively go into those communities, you say we welcome you, we love you — we want you to be part of our big tent and you help them get involved in the political process,” he said, acknowledging that “historical barriers” make it more difficult to get a foot in the door.

“That requires leadership and that’s something that I committed to doing on day one.”

Addressing the diversity gap
The diversity gap between the Liberal and NDP caucuses is stark. The 2020 election brought in an NDP caucus with the highest number of Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) MLAs ever. It marked the first time a government caucus was composed of a majority of women in Canadian history, while the Liberals returned to the legislature with fewer women and BIPOC MLAs than before.

While both the NDP and Greens ran multiple candidates who identified as part of the LGBTQ community, the Liberals told BC Today in October that just one of its candidates was LGBTQ — and that person “made the personal choice to not publicly discuss” their identity.

The Liberals’ 2020 campaign was also rocked by several social issue snafus. One candidate voted against a rainbow crosswalk in Langley during her time as a city councillor, and former Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson eventually accepted the resignation of incumbent Chilliwack MLA Laurie Throness after he compared contraception to eugenics.

Falcon told BC Today that, as leader, he would not hesitate to discipline party members who do not wholeheartedly support diversity.

“If you don’t believe in a big tent party, you’re probably best not to become a member of this party,” he said. “If — after making it abundantly clear that this is a big tent party — you want to roll in a different direction, you will have to deal with Kevin Falcon.”

Falcon currently faces three competitors for the party leadership: Liberal Environment critic Ellis Ross; Vancouver entrepreneur Gavin Dew; and Liberal Transportation critic Michael Lee, who signalled his intent to run earlier this week.

Would-be candidates have until November 30 to submit their applications. The next leader will be chosen at the party’s convention on February 5, 2022.