Vaughn Palmer: B.C. United branding campaign waits donors

Opinion: If party leader Kevin Falcon can turn things around before October’s election, he’ll surprise many observers

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VICTORIA — Opposition leader Kevin Falcon has wrapped up a disappointing year by dismissing the opinion polls that show his B.C. United party in third place behind the NDP and the B.C. Conservatives.

“I’m not concerned and I’ll tell you why,” said Falcon during a year-end interview with Dirk Meissner of The Canadian Press. “It’s because I’ve been around for awhile and I know that the polling is, frankly, b.s.”

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Well, what else was he going to say?

All the recent polls paint much the same picture. The New Democrats are comfortably in the lead, as they have been through their seven plus years in power.

The Conservatives have surged from nowhere to second place, still many points behind the governing party.

And the party formerly known as the B.C. Liberals is lagging in third, having so far failed to connect to the public under the new name it adopted eight months ago.

So Falcon is reduced to citing a time when the polls were wrong.

“I remember back in 2013 when the B.C. Liberals were 22 points down in the polls,” he reminded Stephen Quinn on CBC’s Early Edition Monday.

“Two weeks before an election, the media made up their minds. They said there’s no question Adrian Dix is going to be the premier. This is done. And they were wrong. B.C. Liberals won a majority government.”

I was there and got it wrong. On the morning after the votes were counted in 2013, I ate the first of several helpings of crow on a public platform that I shared with Falcon himself.

Polls can also get it right about elections. They can change, too, with the actual voting day still months away.

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Most of the movement this year has favoured the B.C. Conservatives and their leader John Rustad. But Falcon has an excuse for that.

“The support out there isn’t because John Rustad has suddenly captured the imagination of the public,” he told The Canadian Press. “My God, of course not. IT’s Pierre Poilievre and the federal Conservatives.”

But also worth noting that Rustad has been working the same, populist turf as Poilievre. If B.C. voters are looking for a provincial counterpart for Poilievre’s carbon-tax-scrapping, cost-cutting agenda, Rustad could be their man.

Falcon says he has no regrets about ejecting Rustad from his party’s caucus back in 2022.

“I said, what you can’t do when you are part of a team is just keep tweeting out climate denial stuff that hurts the entire team. John refused to adhere to that fundamental basic discipline you have to have when you are part of a party.”

The B.C. United leader does concede that he perhaps could have done more to keep MLA Bruce Banman from defecting to the Conservatives, which would have denied them the official party status they’ve been exploiting ever since.

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Yet when Banman switched parties back in September, Falcon accused him of betraying his constituents and said the MLA had been “an ongoing management challenge.”

The big challenge for Falcon is increasing voter awareness of B.C. United. He has an analogy for that as well, citing how Ken Sim and his ABC party swept the civic election in Vancouver last year.

“The ABC party didn’t exist 18 months prior to the election and a lot of people didn’t know who they were either,” Falcon reminded the CBC host.

He predicts that B.C. United will be able to do the same before the election scheduled for Oct. 19, 2024.

“People are going to look and see a team that’s ready,” he said. “The B.C. United is the common-sense party that is going to fix the challenges we face in B.C., and is going to get us back so people can feel optimistic about the future.”

But lately B.C. United is looking unready in one important respect.

When Falcon made the name change official at a rally back in April, it was recognized as the first step in a rebranding exercise that would consume a lot of time and financial resources.

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The necessary advertising campaign has not yet materialized in any significant way. Then late last month came a telling admission from Lindsay Cote, the party’s executive director.

“Today I am officially launching the B.C. United brand awareness fund,” she announced to donors and supporters. “This fund will pay for all our brand awareness efforts — including the big advertising campaign we’ve got planned.”

Planned yes, funded no.

“As I write to you, this new fund sits EMPTY. Unless that changes we’ll have no choice but to place many of our brand awareness projects on hold.”

Eight months since the leader changed the name of the party and only now has B.C. United planned “a big advertising campaign,” still without having the money to pay for it.

If Falcon does manage to turn things around in the year ahead, he’ll be able to take one of the more surprising victory laps in provincial political history.

If he fails, the blaming will start with his decision to change the party name before the rebranding campaign was ready to launch.

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