Inside B.C. United’s plan to overcome flagging polling numbers

Despite polls that show the upstart B.C. Conservatives eclipsing B.C. United, Falcon said he’s confident he can win over centre-right voters

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In a packed town-hall meeting last month in Langley, Kevin Falcon faced heckling from a right-wing provocateur called Billboard Chris, who challenged the B.C. United leader’s stance on gender identity.

“Go run for office then if you’ve got all the answers,” Falcon shot back as Chris Elston stormed out of the ballroom at the Sandman Signature Langley Hotel.

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It’s an example of the pressure Falcon faces to shift to the right on social issues, and the challenges of trying to carve out a centrist position in an increasingly polarized political landscape.

After bruising polls that show the upstart B.C. Conservatives gaining ground and eclipsing B.C. United just six months before October’s provincial election, political analysts say time is running out for Falcon to strengthen his appeal among voters and communicate a message that sets him apart from the ruling New Democrats and John Rustad’s Conservatives.

Falcon is blitzing communities across B.C. in an effort to boost his name recognition and introduce people to the party previously known as the B.C. Liberals.

“What I love about the town halls is that first of all, they’re open to anyone,” Falcon told Postmedia News from his office in the legislature Wednesday. “They can ask me any question they want. I’ve been asked questions on every possible subject under the sun and I address them. Even if they don’t like my answers, I give them my honest, candid answer.”

B.C. Conservative Leader John Rustad, left, and B.C. United Leader Kevin Falcon.
B.C. Conservative Leader John Rustad, left, and B.C. United Leader Kevin Falcon. Photo by Darren Stone/Chad Hipolito /Times Colonist/CP

Falcon, who has been portrayed by his political rivals as a former developer intent on giving tax breaks to the rich, has heard from more than one voter: “I came here not expecting to like you. But I have to tell you, I really appreciate it that you just answered questions honestly. You’re straight up and I leave here being a supporter.”

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The 61-year-old married father of two and former cabinet minister under the governments of Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark is increasingly name-dropping those two B.C. Liberal former premiers when explaining what B.C. United stands for. It’s an effort to win back the urban voters who turned away from the free-enterprise party in the 2020 provincial election, which handed the B.C. NDP under John Horgan a historic majority win.

The most recent opinion poll, released Tuesday by Vancouver-based polling firm Research Co., shows 45 per cent of decided voters polled said they’d back Premier David Eby’s NDP in the next election, followed by the B.C. Conservatives with 27 per cent, B.C. United with 15 per cent and the B.C. Greens with 11 per cent. One per cent of those surveyed support other parties or independent candidates.

B.C. United has conducted its own internal polling in an effort to understand which prospective voters are supporting the B.C. Conservatives and why.

The internal polling shows the B.C. Conservatives are popular among men and women between the ages of 18 to 34 and among voters in the Fraser Valley and the Interior.

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A B.C. United source involved with the polling, who spoke to Postmedia News on background, said their poll confirms Falcon’s position that much of B.C. Conservatives’ support comes from people who assume the provincial party is connected to the federal party of Pierre Poilievre.

When the poll questions make clear that B.C. United is the party of Campbell and Clark, support for United jumps, the strategist said.

However, even then, the B.C. United-commissioned poll still has the centre-right parties neck and neck, with 22 per cent for United and 21 per cent for the Conservatives, with the NDP in a comfortable lead at 41 per cent support.

The party knows it has work to do, which is why Falcon has been spending evening and weekends talking to British Columbians at public meetings and cultural events like Vaisakhi.

The party’s $1 million advertising campaign, which ads running during the Canucks playoffs games and on Facebook and YouTube, aims to capitalize on British Columbians’ frustration with the cost of living, blaming the government for a carbon tax which has made gas and groceries more expensive.

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However, a conservative strategist who has worked with both B.C. United and the federal Conservatives is concerned the party’s middle-of the-road messaging is coming off as “NDP lite.”

“They’re scared to take really strong positions,” said the strategist.

As a result, right-leaning voters in the big tent coalition of federal Liberals and federal Tories have started to feel “politically homeless,” the strategist said.

Another political strategist, Kareem Allam, ran Falcon’s leadership campaign in 2022 and helped Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim and his ABC party rise to power. He said he’s disappointed to see Falcon flirting with more right-wing ideologies such as questioning sexual orientation and gender identity education in schools.

“Right now today, in this race to see who can be a better friend to Pierre Poilievre, I think a lot of federal Liberals don’t find a home in either of those two parties and I think they’re quite happy to vote NDP,” said Allam, who is still a card-carrying B.C. United member and considers himself a progressive conservative.

Falcon said he doesn’t chart his political fortunes based on polls or political punditry, but based on the strong slate of candidates the party has assembled and on the face-to-face conversations with British Columbians.

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Falcon said despite concerns about vote-splitting on the right, he maintains the B.C. United coalition is “united by a belief that a private-sector-driven economy is the best way to generate the revenues we need to fund important services like education, health care and other social policies. But it’s also a recognition that we have to make sure that we are open to all voices, whether on the right or the left.”

“Our positions are what I would call sort of mainstream, small ‘c’ conservative positions on issues that resonate with most of the public. You’re not going to get people at the extremes, I get that. But the broad centre-right, I think we can get.”

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