B.C. Liberal Party’s post-mortem report misses the bigger picture

Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson pauses while speaking during a campaign stop in Vancouver, on Saturday, September 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The B.C. Liberal Party has released its post-mortem report of why it lost the provincial election so badly last fall and while it draws some obvious conclusions, it misses the bigger picture when it comes to the serious challenges the party faces as it tries to rebuild.

The report — written by three Toronto-based consultants — concludes the party never really stood much of a chance of winning the election anyway. However, it fails to examine why the party was in so much trouble before the election writ was even dropped.

Nevertheless, former party leader Andrew Wilkinson comes in for heavy criticism and is portrayed as someone who comes across as “stilted,” “combative” and “uncomfortable.” When asked to rate his performance on a scale of one to 10 (10 being “perfect”) Wilkinson was awarded an abysmal average of four by those surveyed.

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However, Wilkinson was not deemed to be the only big problem. The party’s platform was tone-deaf and failed to connect with voters and even party members, its communications efforts were clumsy and ineffective, what little campaigning actually did occur was amateurish and almost pointless. The list goes on.

Of course, the media comes in for some blame. The legislative press gallery was said to have been too “cozy” with the government of Premier John Horgan. In addition, gallery reporters spent most of their time covering the COVID-19 pandemic and the regular briefings and updates by Dr. Bonnie Henry (indeed, I spent much of my time during the campaign covering those briefings).

The central campaign team gets a clean bill of health, which is odd given the enormity of the loss and the fact so many missteps were made.

The report’s authors based their findings on surveys sent to 3,000 party members and interviews with candidates, strategists, senior officials and campaign staff.

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That approach (of talking to only party insiders and members) may have masked the true rot that has slowly eaten its way through the party the past decade or so. The party did not just lose the last election — it was absolutely hammered and the depth of its defeat can be seen in lopsided NDP wins in traditionally strong B.C. Liberal ridings in places like Vernon, Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Mission, North Vancouver and Langley.

This momentous loss had been building for years but the B.C. Liberals, smug in their feelings of invincibility because they unexpectedly won the 2013 election, simply failed to spot the warning signs until it was too late.

The report is sprinkled with quotes from those who were surveyed or interviewed. Near the end of the report, this one jumped out at me: “Seriously take on rebuilding! Don’t be afraid to take on the tough questions and challenges. Hold our MLAs accountable for their past and present discretions. Clean house, change the mediocre mentality of the old guard.”

Harsh criticism but indicative of the massive rebuilding job the party faces.

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The report ends with some recommendations about the usual things: attracting younger members, improving the party’s nomination process, finding more volunteers and getting started on the next campaign as soon as possible.

However, it is the very last paragraph — it reads as if it was tacked on as an afterthought — that nails the party’s deeper problems. It says the party must be more diverse when it comes to recruiting and “elevating” people from every gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and economic background.

“The province has changed, and so should the B.C. Liberals,” reads the report’s last line. It is also the most accurate one in it.

Keith Baldrey is the chief political reporter for Global BC.

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