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Baldrey: Acrimony, tears and 'wild' fantasies in B.C.'s Legislature

Columnist Keith Baldrey analyzes the final legislative session, and the events that transpired, before the 2024 provincial election.
B.C. legislature building in downtown Victoria. | Times Colonist

The final legislative session before the coming provincial election ended last week in acrimony, tears and some wild political fantasies being circulated.

The acrimony resulted from the increased tension in the House that occurs anytime an election is approaching, as tempers get shorter, and nerves become frayed.

The tears came with the departure of almost 20 MLAs, some of them long-serving veterans, as they made their farewell speeches in the house.

And the political fantasies revolved around talk of some kind of “merger” between the B.C. United Party and the B.C. Conservative Party. Both United leader Kevin Falcon and Conservative leader John Rustad publicly mused about such a possibility and then just as quickly seemed to kibosh the idea.

Nevertheless, political tongues were wagging for about 48 hours last week as folks pondered how such an arrangement could be arrived at.

The idea of a merger or some kind of co-managed election campaign assumes that the center-right vote is “split” between the two parties and if they could just get together it would create a common front that would deny the re-election of the NDP government.

But this is where the word “fantasy” enters the picture.

First, political parties cannot merge their assets (i.e. money raised through fundraising and things like office equipment and hardware) so it is unclear what any kind of “merger” would actually look like.

Second, you can’t add the two parties’ polling numbers together and automatically assume that would be the level of support for a combined alternative. Some B.C. United voters would never vote for the B.C. Conservatives and vice-versa.

While the two parties share some policies there are critical differences between them that no amount of backroom work by political fixers will eliminate. The B.C. Conservatives are far more “socially conservative” than B.C. United.

Falcon seized on this point in talking to the media last week. Shortly after admitting his party executive had made “exploratory” overtures to the B.C. Conservative executive, he told the media about the main stumbling block to any kind of agreement between the two parties.

“I can’t merge with a party that has candidates that equate vaccines to Nazism and Apartheid,” he told reporters. He was presumably referring to candidates like Damon Scrase, the B.C. Conservative Party candidate in the Courtenay-Comox riding, who has posted dozens of social media comments that equate vaccines to Nazism and Apartheid (as well as a host of other far-right comments).

There is also the matter of electoral math. The NDP won 49 ridings in the 2020 election with at least 45 per cent of the vote in each of them and it won 36 ridings by at least the same margin in the 2017 election. Of the six new seats appearing in the next election, at least three of them are in NDP strongholds, putting the party in a very strong position in more than 50 seats, barring a hemorrhage in voter support (47 seats are required for a majority government).

Then there is the Green Party (remember it?).

It receives about 10-20 per cent of the vote in many Metro and Island ridings (it finished second to the NDP in a dozen ridings in 2020). That could mean that the combined B.C. United/B.C. Conservative support might not even exceed 40 per cent in many ridings, thus rendering a proposed merger somewhat pointless.

A wiser and potentially more effective move by Falcon and B.C. United is to aim their sights on the B.C. Conservatives with an eye to driving down that party’s support rather than cozying up to the much more right-wing entity.

Fighting a two-front war has its risks but given B.C. United’s beleaguered situation it may be the only choice for the party.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.