Kevin Falcon's path to a B.C. Liberal victory: hammer the NDP over airborne COVID

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      In the years leading up to the 2009 provincial election, the B.C. Liberals were ripe for a fall. 

      Under Premier Gordon Campbell, their first two terms resulted in a growing gap between rich and poor. In particular, Campbell alienated many women in the province with punitive social policies that made life even more difficult for single parents.

      Under Campbell, B.C. was the only place in North America that prevented people on social assistance from topping up their income with part-time work.

      In his first term, Campbell refused to include greenhouse-gas emission targets in the provincial climate-change plan.

      He jacked up subsidies for producers of natural gas. He weakened environmental-assessment legislation by boosting the threshold for projects to be reviewed.

      Campbell's government also gutted employment standards. He infuriated the legal community with draconian cuts to legal aid. And in opposition, Campbell had already ticked off First Nations leaders by taking the government to court over the Nisga'a treaty. 

      Is it any wonder he was widely viewed as the Fraser Institute's boy in the premier's office?

      But prior to the 2009 election, Campbell did something highly unexpected, which befuddled his opponents and won approval from some well-educated voters.

      He embarked on a plan to create the first carbon-neutral government, which would also apply to Crown agencies.

      He introduced North America's first carbon tax, earning praise from environmentalists such as David Suzuki, Tzeporah Berman, and Al Gore.

      In another significant political development, Campbell promised a new relationship with First Nations.

      These new approaches did not go over well with some of his supporters in the business community.

      But Campbell, a strong-willed leader, forged on in the face of this opposition. And he won the 2009 election by framing his NDP opponents as being anti-climate-action with their opposition to the carbon tax.

      This 2007 Georgia Straight cover, illustrated by Rod Filbrandt, revealed how Gordon Campbell was rebranding himself on the climate.

      What's Falcon going to do to change the channel?

      Now, let's jump forward 13 years to 2022. The B.C. Liberals, under their new leader, Kevin Falcon, have a very battered brand. 

      Falcon is perceived as a hard right winger—a Maxime Bernier endorser, no less.

      The NDP is going to take every opportunity to drive this point home between now and the election. The NDP will also do everything it can to frame Falcon as a modern-day Simon Legree who hates the poor.

      It appears as though Falcon thinks he can win the election by focusing on housing.

      This issue resonates with younger voters, in particular, but also with many middle-age and older renters.

      So it's no surprise that the first questions asked by the B.C. Liberals in the house, with Falcon sitting at the back, zeroed in on housing.

      But I suspect it's going to take more than Falcon's free-market, supply-driven approach to housing to get him across the finish line in 2024.

      He has to win back well-educated voters of a mildly progressive bent who decided to plug their noses and vote for the B.C. Liberals in 2009.

      They did this because they felt that Campbell had finally "gotten it" on the environment and was prepared to deal with First Nations in line with court rulings.

      To these voters, Campbell was no longer a knuckle-dragging troglodyte

      This is what delivered the B.C. Liberals six seats in Vancouver, two Burnaby seats, and a sweep of the North Shore. 

      Campbell reached voters who sometimes go for the Greens because they're not comfortable with the NDP's somewhat anti-intellectual bent. That mindset is reflected currently in the NDP's refusal to truly and authentically embrace what academics say should be done in response to the overdose crisis and the climate breakdown.

      I don't expect Falcon and the B.C. Liberals to come rushing to the rescue of drug users. That's too big of a leap for a party that believes the only solution to the overdose crisis is to wean people off drugs. Falcon also won't get religion on the climate, like Campbell did.

      But Falcon could confound his NDP opponents by radically revising his party's position on COVID-19.

      He'll be under pressure from the right wing to let the floodgates open and drop all government mandates, just as the right-wing premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan are doing. That's probably what the NDP is expecting.

      Then Health Minister Adrian Dix and his cabinet cronies can present themselves to voters as the prudent choice, in that they took steps "in accordance with the science".

      We all know what's going to happen in Alberta and Saskatchewan, by the way.

      Infections will likely spike. Hospitalizations will remain a problem. And their death stats per capita will probably exceed the national average.

      If Falcon has real political courage—and that remains to be seen—he'll stand up to the right wingers in his midst and shove the political shiv in the NDP's COVID underbelly. He'll do a Campbell on them.

      Lots of B.C. Liberals are still wearing cloth masks and baggy blues, but former transportation minister Todd Stone is one exception.
      Kevin Falcon

      Disease transmission is the key

      It's already clear to a growing number of well-educated voters that the NDP isn't interested in what scientists are saying about how COVID-19 is transmitted.

      This is reflected in the government's refusal to accept the reality of this pandemic—i.e., that it's an airborne virus best tackled through proper ventilation, open windows, and high-quality masks.

      The Horgan cabinet is not advancing policies that encourage as many people as possible to work and study from home. Nor is it launching ad campaigns, like those in Britain, to educate people about how to protect oneself from an airborne virus.

      Falcon's mother was a nurse. As health minister, he demonstrated an interest in listening to scientists when he advanced progressive policies around HIV treatment.

      So it's not completely out of his wheelhouse to sit down with the doctors and researchers with Protect Our Province B.C.—the chief group condeming the NDP's policies—to hear what they have to say.

      If Falcon can shelve his libertarian ideology and come to the table with an open mind, they might just get through to him. And it could have historical ramifications, just as Campbell's about-face on the growing carbon crisis did in the 2009 campaign.

      Just imagine if every B.C. Liberal—including Falcon after a by-election victory—showed up in the legislature in an N95 mask.

      Just imagine if they pounded the health minister in question period day after day, asking why his government refuses to embrace what so many scientists around the world are saying about how COVID-19 is being transmitted.

      The B.C. Liberals could bring up the quotes from some of these international scientists.

      One MLA could mention University of Toronto epidemiologist David Fisman's remark that one B.C. public health official's comments would be laughable if they weren't so deadly.

      Another MLA could bring up how University of Colorado Boulder atmospheric chemist Jose-Luis Jimenez described how one of the health authorities was in his COVID  Hall of Shame after engaging in flat-earth aerosol science.

      Another could bring up a paper by several researchers, including Dr. Trisha Greenhalgh at the University of Oxford, which slammed B.C. for its "failure to acknowledge and act on the evidence base" for airborne transmission of COVID-19 in a timely manner.

      These B.C. Liberal MLAs could then ask Dix if he agrees or disagrees with these scientists making these comments. And if Dix agrees, what is he, as health minister, going to do about it?

      In going down this road, the B.C. Liberals would rebrand themselves in the eyes of some voters who've written them off.

      It would also drive a wedge within the NDP's base.

      And it just might make Falcon B.C.'s next premier.