Hoo boy: Examining the B.C. political breakup of Kevin Falcon and John Rustad

Click to play video: 'Focus BC: BC United ruling out merger, unofficial start to election campaign'
Focus BC: BC United ruling out merger, unofficial start to election campaign
To merge or not to merge. That is the question posed this week to both the BC Conservative and BC United parties. In the Friday, May 17, 2024, edition of Focus BC, host Richard Zussman speaks with BC United leader Kevin Falcon about the possibility of a merger and how the party is exploring options for cooperation. Also, David Coletto from Abacus Data has more on polling results on where the parties stand ahead of the October election. – May 17, 2024

There are breakups and then there are breakups.

And the breakup of Kevin Falcon and John Rustad, on full display last week, is a truly nasty one of epic proportions.

Rustad, the leader of the BC Conservative Party, rejected a bizarre proposal from Falcon’s party, BC United, to carve up the electoral map along lines that greatly favoured the United side.

The next day, Falcon’s party unleashed a full personal attack on Rustad, calling him selfish and accusing him of putting his ambitions ahead of the public interest. Rustad returned fire, saying Falcon was “irrational and unreasonable and prepared to lie.”

Hoo boy.

But a close examination of what BC United was proposing shows Rustad made the right call if he is truly interested in growing his party and taking on the NDP government.

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Agreeing to the audacious and somewhat absurd proposal from BC United would have likely buried his party’s chance of emerging as the alternative to the sitting government. Or even climbing to become the Official Opposition party.

Click to play video: 'Political Panel: Merger talks with BC United and BC Conservatives'
Political Panel: Merger talks with BC United and BC Conservatives

The BC United proposal would effectively prevent either party from forming a majority government on its own, as it would allow the BC Conservatives to field a maximum of 47 candidates and the BC United Party a maximum of 46.

BC United proposed keeping its 15 incumbent candidates and entering a “draft” which would see the BC Conservatives select three candidates for everyone candidate chosen by BC United until the two sides had equal numbers and then it would be alternative picks.

The problem with this approach, from the BC Conservatives’ perspective, is that BC United would get to keep much of the most potentially conservative regions of the province, forcing the BC Conservatives into hitting a wall early on when it came to putting candidates in competitive ridings.

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For example, the Peace River region, the Cariboo, Kamloops, east Kootenays and south Delta – eight ridings that could quite conceivably line up behind the BC Conservatives come the October election – would all be off-limits because they are all currently represented by BC United incumbents.

The NDP has a vice-grip on about 40 ridings (it won 44 seats with a victory margin of at least 15 percentage points in 2020, and 35 seats with a margin of more than 20 per cent), which means there is precious little real estate left to pursue after you include the 15 BC United candidates.

Click to play video: 'What Brad West says about possible BC Conservative and BC United Party merger'
What Brad West says about possible BC Conservative and BC United Party merger

Under this proposed drafting system, the BC Conservatives would be able to name candidates in about 20 ridings that might be considered winnable. Most of its other candidates would be sacrificial lambs in NDP fortress ridings like Vancouver-Hastings, Vancouver-Renfrew or any of the Burnaby and Vancouver Island ridings.

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The strongest conservative regions are the North, the Interior and the Fraser Valley, and BC United wants to hang onto as much of its territory in those areas as possible.

Hence the wacky proposal, and hence Rustad’s quick and firm rejection of it.

The BC United Party, struggling to stay afloat in B.C.’s turbulent political waters, was hoping to be tossed a lifesaver by Rustad and the BC Conservatives. Instead, Rustad and his side opted to throw them an anvil.

Keith Baldrey is the chief political reporter for Global BC.

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