A byelection that could put new British Columbia Liberal leader Kevin Falcon back in the province’s legislature is a race about the past and future, say both the candidates and political experts.
Voters in the upscale Vancouver-Quilchena riding, previously held by two former BC Liberal leaders, will choose a new member on April 30.
Falcon, 59, is a former cabinet minister who was elected party leader in February after more than a decade away from B.C. politics.
He said he aimed to lead an Opposition that would hold the New Democrat government to account for failures on affordability, housing, and the overdose crisis.
His main rival is first-time NDP candidate Jeanette Ashe, a political scientist who is married to Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart.
She said her campaign focused on reminding voters about Falcon’s past as a minister in governments that slashed social programs.
NDP cabinet ministers, including Finance Minister Selina Robinson, have campaigned with Ashe to tell voters that Falcon presided over cuts to programs for women and families and he should be denied a return to the legislature.
The question for voters is whether they define Falcon as a politician carrying yesterday’s baggage, or as a new leader who can turn things around for the Opposition in the 2024 provincial election, after two consecutive defeats, said Prof. Stewart Prest, a Simon Fraser University political scientist.
“He has a very long track record, and we know the NDP is losing no time trying to pick at it,” said Prest, who said he considers Falcon the front-runner.
“This is a time to try and define him a little bit and to try and find the kinds of attacks that may work well,” he said in an interview.
“We may think of this as something of a dress rehearsal for what the NDP will say and do and what Mr. Falcon may say and do in the election down the road.”
Vancouver-Quilchena has been a safe seat for the BC Liberals. It was previously held by former party leaders Andrew Wilkinson and Gordon Campbell.
Wilkinson, who quit as party leader after the Oct. 2020 provincial election, was re-elected in the riding with 56 per cent of the vote. He announced his retirement as an MLA last February, paving the way for Falcon to run in Vancouver-Quilchena.
The three other candidates in the byelection are Wendy Hayko of the B.C. Green Party; Dallas Brodie, Conservative; and Sandra Filosof-Schipper, Libertarian.
Hayko, an emergency management expert and driving instructor, said she was concerned about housing for young people and government inaction on climate change.
Brodie, a lawyer and former broadcaster, said she lived in the riding and was looking to open a clothing boutique business.
Filosof-Schipper, who ran as the Libertarian candidate in Vancouver-Fairview in 2020, said she would advocate for affordable housing, health care and forestry initiatives.
Falcon said the NDP was campaigning on personal attacks to deflect attention from a failed record on housing affordability and the overdose crisis.
“I care a lot about people, but I also care a lot about results,” he said in an interview.
“The fact they want to pivot away from their own record is no surprise to me. I will keep focused on their record and their failures as a government to achieve any positive results in any metric you want to use.”
Falcon, who held a seat in Surrey for three terms before deciding not to run in the 2013 election, said he left politics to spend more time with his young family. He also worked in the private sector with a Vancouver investment and property development firm.
He held a number of portfolios after first being elected in 2001, including transportation, health, finance and was the deputy premier. Falcon finished second in the 2011 leadership contest to Christy Clark, who served as premier until the party lost power.
Vancouver-Quilchena is one of the most well-off constituencies in the province, but Falcon said its voters told him that unaffordability, especially for home prices and rent, was a major concern.
He said most people in the riding want their children and grandchild to one day be able to afford to live in the city.
“That’s not happening under NDP policies.”
Ashe, who chairs the political science department at Douglas College, said she decided to enter the byelection at the urging of her students, as well as her husband, Mayor Stewart.
Falcon’s election as Liberal leader also convinced her to run, she said.
“I really love this city and I love this province, and when I heard Kevin Falcon was elected by the B.C. Liberals as the next leader, I was actually really aghast,” she said in an interview.
“I couldn’t believe they chose him. He was part of a government that made such deep, devastating cuts that affected our province and still has this lingering effect.”
Ashe said she wanted to stress to voters that Falcon had not changed.
“It’s up to them who they vote for,” she said. “I hope they vote for me, but I want them to look back to the years and remember who Kevin Falcon was and what he was in it for, for himself and (real estate) speculators.”
Former Liberal cabinet minister Mary Polak said Falcon’s presence would be felt by the NDP and his own party caucus if he won the byelection.
“He will be focused,” she said. “There will be tasks to complete. and he will expect them completed. He’s no slouch when it comes to putting in front of his caucus the goals they need to reach.”
The dynamic in the legislature between the B.C. Liberals and the NDP and Falcon and Premier John Horgan would heat up if Falcon returned, said Polak.
“If they want to fight Kevin Falcon successfully, they are going to have to do better than trying to dredge up the past,” she said. “They are going to have to look at what he’s got on his platform for the future.”
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press