Like many boomers, still mourning the Beatles’ break-up some 51 years ago, I can’t wait to see Oscar-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson’s epic new docuseries, The Beatles: Get Back.
By most accounts, it’s a wonderfully uplifting revisionist portrayal of the band’s legendary attempt at renewal during the 1969 live-filmed sessions that ultimately gave us the swan-song album Let it Be and the 1970 movie that first documented the Beatles’ sad demise.
I’m thinking the long-anticipated release of Get Back might have also influenced 58-year-old B.C. Liberal leadership frontrunner, Kevin Falcon.
For the past several months since entering the race, he’s been promoting his own revisionist rendering of the B.C. Liberals’ mythical past, highlighted by his 12 years in the cabinet.
His campaign soundtrack for his tragically unhip, broken band?
Get Back. Back to where you once belonged.
For Falcon, it starts with renaming his group, as he said in announcing his leadership run:
“I believe our renewal demands a new party name,” he proclaimed—one that “will be decided upon in consultation with our membership” and will only proceed with Liberal members’ support.
Presumably, that involves dumping the Liberal label in favour of something less alienating to those who can’t stomach the very notion of liberalism.
Surely that’s the main point of Falcon’s dubious rebranding exercise, in also trying to distance his party and himself from the “Liberal” past while simultaneously stressing how much his “experience matters.”
Across the Universe a new purple dawn awaits a more perfectly united right.
One that is neither true-blue conservative nor as bleeding-heart red as the dreaded L-word implies.
A new party label, that’s the ticket, untethered from liberal principles, beliefs, and values.
A positively meaningless new political brand, perhaps, that better speaks to British Columbians.
Many supporters of Falcon’s brand-bait-and-switch gambit point to the Saskatchewan Party as a successful prototype.
Yet that was a new party, created as a coalition by four Progressive Conservative MLAs and four Liberal MLAs.
It wasn’t a merger of those two parties, any more than Falcon’s newly named Liberal vehicle would be.
And it wasn’t simply a renamed party, as Falcon ostensibly hopes to remake his party.
Still, the deep-blue conservative Saskatchewan Party did beat the NDP in the last four provincial elections.
Just like the B.C. Liberals did with their winning label, four times in a row. Who also came within a hair of winning a fifth consecutive term and might still be in government today if they weren’t so intent on self-immolation trying to appease the far right.
The Saskatchewan Party hasn’t kept either the Conservatives or the Liberals entirely off the ballot in any election in that Flat Earth domain.
So, why not a British Columbia Party, tailor-made for B.C.’s disgruntled anti-Liberal conservatives?
It’s all For You Blue, Falcon might as well croon. He feels it now and hopes you feel it too.
A new label, B.C. Liberals?
Let It Be, I’d suggest.
You don’t want to go down that Long and Winding Road.
We’ve seen that road before, which will be a very tough one to hoe.
Trust me on this, the Liberal label will never disappear. Someone will inevitably resurrect that brand.
It’s tough to keep that good ideology down and off the ballot, as B.C. history has shown.
It’s doubly so in this day and age that is tilting ever progressively left, light years removed from the political landscape that existed 20 years ago when Falcon was first elected.
The Liberal label has survived since the dawn of party politics in B.C., 118 years ago, fielding Liberal candidates in all but two of B.C.’s 33 provincial elections since 1903.
In all that time, the Liberals formed 15 governments, including their formal coalition with the Conservatives, from 1941 to 1952.
As such, the Liberals governed B.C. for some 47 years, including their last 16-year stint, prior to the NDP’s current reign.
Not bad, right?
No matter, Falcon promises, better days are ahead, in the mould of Social Credit that ruled B.C. for so long by supposedly uniting the right.
Except, that’s not quite true. Let’s review.
Fact is, Social Credit was never originally conceived as vehicle to unite the right—quite the contrary.
The initial Social Credit League of British Credit that first fielded candidates in 1937 itself subsequently divided into three factions.
Ironically, the Socreds first came to power in B.C. in 1952 as an alternative to the Coalition that was created to temporarily unite the Liberals and Conservatives in preventing the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation from forming government.
The Coalition government conspired to enable the Conservatives and Liberals to once again run under their own labels in 1952 and still beat the CCF under a new alternative vote electoral system, which badly backfired and set the Socred dynasty in motion.
The point is, coalitions don’t always work as planned for those who are too smart by half.
Just ask Alberta’s “United” Conservatives, who are now facing political annihilation under a messianic leader who has predictably refractured his province and party on every fault line.
Mostly, because of who he is—a political dinosaur who is ice ages removed from former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi’s more contemporary winning example.
Why the B.C. Liberals would ever want to turn to B.C.’s own version of Jason Kenney-lite to lead their rebranding effort is beyond me.
In any case, the “big tent” Social Credit brand never did eliminate either the Liberal or Conservative brand in B.C.
It just further split the vote, albeit successfully.
Throughout all of Wacky Bennett’s Socred heyday, the Liberals typically attracted at least 16 to 23 percent of the vote. From 1975-on, the Liberals still claimed single digit support in three of the next four elections.
Throughout all of the Socreds’ legendary reign, except for the 1979 election, the Liberals typically garnered far more of the popular vote than the Conservatives ever did.
They also won exponentially more support than the Conservatives did in all but only a few elections over the last seven decades.
More than anything, what kept Wacky’s Socreds in power was that in the seven elections between 1952 and their first loss in 1972, the CCF/NDP never garnered even 34 percent of the vote.
His old “socialist hordes at the gate” fearmongering worked very well in the early Cold War era.
That all changed with Dave Barrett’s historic win. After which, the NDP never received less than 39 percent of the popular vote, apart from in 2001, typically hovering in the low- to mid-forties support range until John Horgan’s record-high 47.7 percent win last year.
Ludicrously, the Liberals still haven’t quite accepted that there is no going back to the “red scare” times, where fear of the NDP was the dominant narrative defining B.C.’s political culture.
Especially after this NDP government, which is probably the most truly small-l liberal government B.C. has ever had. A fact that also largely explains why Horgan is still Canada’s most popular premier.
The last thing the B.C. Liberals need is a new party label and new leader that will likely further cede that fertile liberal turf to the NDP.
Remember, it wasn’t just the upstart Reform BC party, which won 9.2 percent of the vote, that effectively cost Gordon Campbell from forming the government in 1996.
Campbell’s Liberals actually won two percent more votes than Glen Clark’s NDP in that campaign, but six fewer seats. Why?
In large measure, because former B.C. Liberal leader Gordon Wilson left the Liberals to start his own new party, as a small-l liberal alternative to Campbell’s right-leaning team.
The Progressive Democratic Alliance took 5.7 percent of the popular vote that effectively cost the B.C. Liberals eight seats where that split liberal vote exceeded the margin of the winning NDP candidates.
Think something similar to that couldn’t happen again under a renamed party with Falcon in charge?
As we all know, Campbell subsequently reconsolidated the right more completely than it ever had been since the Coalition. Under the B.C. Liberal banner.
The B.C. Liberals then governed for 16 straight years—only four years less than Wacky Bennett’s record winning run and five years longer than his son ruled the roost.
And Falcon wants to rename that winning Liberal brand, largely to curry favour with federal Conservatives? Give your head a shake.
Test, test. Test one, two, three.
With one exception, the provincial Conservatives never sapped enough of the vote to be much of a factor in determining the Liberals’ fortunes over the past 30 years.
The Conservatives won only 1.9 percent of the provincial vote in last year’s election and 0.5 percent in 2017. They garnered 4.7 percent in 2013, 2.1 percent in 2009, 0.5 percent in 2005, 0.1 per cent in 2001, 0.06 percent in 1996, and 0.03 percent in 1991.
Some threat to “free enterprise.”
Throughout all that time, the only areas in B.C. where the Conservatives were strategically significant were mostly in seats that the Liberals handily won anyway, almost always outside of Metro Vancouver.
Everyone knows that those critical swing seats are growing more NDP-orange and federal-Liberal red by the day, as they will increasingly determine who forms the government.
To successfully compete in that region, the B.C. Liberals obviously need to be seen as more progressive. Or in a word, as more authentically “liberal”.
That’s also true in so many other swing seats, as we saw in Courtenay-Comox in 2017.
With 189 votes in that one riding four years ago, the Liberals would have won a fifth straight term and equalled the Socreds’ longest unbeaten streak.
Sure, the Conservative candidate won 2,201 votes, which was crucial in Christy Clark’s loss.
Yet the Liberals’ also lost that riding and several others because so many of their former supporters swung to the B.C. Greens, largely in protest of her pathetic environmental protection record, particularly on climate change.
The Green candidate in Courtenay-Comox garnered over 5,300 votes in 2017, representing 18 percent of the vote. That was up from 3,715 voters, representing 11.5 percent, who voted for the Green candidate in the former Comox Valley riding in 2013.
If even a fraction of those voters had stuck with the B.C. Liberals, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation.
In recent times, leadership aside, it is the strength of the B.C. Greens that has been the biggest strategic wildcard effecting both the NDP’s and B.C. Liberals’ election performance.
In the last two elections, the Greens have pulled about 15 to 17 percent support, up from 8 to 9 percent in the previous three tilts.
Yes, that’s cut into the NDP’s vote share. But much of that Green vote has come from the B.C. Liberals, especially under Clark and Wilkinson.
The critical strategic point is this: the universe of voters has shifted increasingly left, not right, for all sorts of obvious reasons. Particularly in Metro Vancouver, which holds the keys to power.
At least three of the B.C. Liberal leadership candidates understand that.
Gavin Dew, Michael Lee, and Val Litwin have all forcefully made the point that we’re now in the thrust of a generational inflection point that demands newly relevant leadership that better reflects the shifting demographic realities and societal priorities of our times.
It demands new ideas, new approaches and a fresh leader who is more credible in leading transformational change and whose values better align with a younger and more diverse electorate.
I just wish that one of them would forcefully defend the Liberal brand as the strategic asset it surely is, instead of dancing around Falcon’s rebranding proposal with so many weasel words.
That bleeding to the B.C. Greens and NDP will only get worse under a formally de-Liberalized party.
Especially one led by a take-no-prisoners partisan who few believe is serious about meaningful climate action.
He’s a face from the past, who is widely perceived as a regressive conservative fiscal hawk, hostile to unions, too keen on privatization, not big on consultation, divisively confrontational, no fan of UNDRIP, and old-school at his core.
Neutering the Liberal name to appease more hard-right conservatives, or to dupe voters into supporting that “new and improved” brand won’t help that party’s fortunes.
Anyway, as Litwin has argued, the B.C. Liberal Party isn’t Facebook. Simply changing its brand to something akin to Meta, with a new label and a new colour palette, won’t do anything to boost its shareholder value.
What would that new brand be, anyway? Maybe the Omega Party?
It might be apropos, given that the Omega symbol is also used to denote the date or the year of death.
R.I.P. B.C. Liberals: 1903-2022. Long live Ω BC! A true purple party, that’s all Greek to me.
Given all that history and the current political context, the B.C. Liberals would be nuts to waste any of their precious time in the next three years engaged in a supposed rebranding exercise that is only certain to be incredibly divisive.
If the Liberals are losing of late, it’s not because of their brand, but in spite of it.
It’s mostly because they have had inept leaders with misplaced priorities who have been too intent on trying to prove to die-hard Conservatives that they aren’t really liberals at all.
It’s because they haven’t had the faintest clue how to revitalize their party to make it more honestly inclusive, more demographically diverse, and more truly representative, responsive, and relevant.
Sure, any new leader would be obliged to engage the membership in a platform development process aimed at better aligning its party name with its inherent brand promise.
But the answer to the B.C. Liberals’ problems actually starts with embracing liberalism as its ideological North Star, led by someone younger than Falcon who embodies those values and who is unencumbered by his own past contradictory example.
The cure for what ails that party is not in trying to rebrand itself as something different than it was created to be.
Least of all led by a “new” brand ambassador, whose chuckling face is forever immortalized in that infamous Zoom video that so contributed to the B.C. Liberals’ humiliating loss in last year’s provincial election.
For a party that wants to turn the page on its past, one would think he would be the last guy it would choose to lead them.
Nor did Falcon help his case by his slow response in firing the male campaign staffer in the wake of the allegations of sexual harassment made and posted to social media by Diamond Isinger, rival leadership candidate Michael Lee’s campaign manager.
Yet as long as he looks like a shoo-in to win the leadership, he’s in bliss.
Thus far, like the song goes, his words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup. They slither while they pass and slip away across the universe.
And that suits him just fine.
Jai guru deva om: nothing’s gonna change his world, if B.C. Liberals don’t wise up. Quick.
Perhaps that might change after tomorrow’s (Nov. 22) livestreamed leadership debate, starting at 7 p.m.
Uncommitted members will be trying to decide which of the party’s six leadership candidates is really the B.C. Liberals’ best bet for renewal, including Dew, Falcon, Lee, Litwin, Renee Merrifield, and Ellis Ross.
I’ll address that question in my next article.
If only Falcon had taken his cue from John Lennon’s infamous words during the Beatles’ farewell rooftop performance: “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we pass the audition.” (Cue laughter.)
“Let’s go!” is Falcon’s leadership slogan. Too bad he didn’t, for good.
It might yet serve as the rallying cry for those who will leave his party if and when he wins its top job.