What does BC United’s poor byelection showing mean for the party?

Click to play video: 'What’s next for BC United after poor showing in byelection?'
What’s next for BC United after poor showing in byelection?
WATCH: B.C. Premier David Eby says he won't call an early election, despite his party cruising to easy victories in two byelections this weekend and the poor showing at the polls for the opposition BC United. Richard Zussman reports. – Jun 26, 2023

British Columbia’s Official Opposition party may be looking at a tougher electoral map come 2024, in the wake of a surprisingly poor showing in a pair of weekend byelections.

The B.C. NDP cruised to easy victories in both Langford-Juan de Fuca and Vancouver-Mount Peasant on Saturday night, with 53.3 per cent and 67.8 per cent of the vote respectively.

Click to play video: 'NDPs clean up at the 2 B.C. byelections'
NDPs clean up at the 2 B.C. byelections

Neither outcome was a surprise for the party, as both ridings have long been New Democrat strongholds. Langford was held by former premier John Horgan, while the Vancouver riding was vacated by former minister Melanie Mark.

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Other results for the night, however, are raising eyebrows.

BC United, fresh off a name change from the BC Liberals, came in fourth place in Langford, with candidate Elena Lawson earning less than nine per cent of the vote. The upstart B.C. Conservative Party, which is not connected to the federal party it shares a name with, came in second with candidate Mike Harris securing nearly 20 per cent.

In East Vancouver, BC United’s Jackie Lee did come in second, but only pulled 13.7 per cent of the vote. The B.C. Conservative candidate in that riding, who ran a campaign focused heavily on transgender issues, finished a distant fourth with just 389 votes.

University of the Fraser Valley political scientist Hamish Telford said the result could mean trouble for BC United with the clock ticking down on B.C.’s 2024 provincial election.

“That’s probably reverberating, sending shockwaves through (BC United) headquarters right now – what went wrong and what it might mean going forward,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Byelection voting in two B.C. ridings Saturday'
Byelection voting in two B.C. ridings Saturday

There were several factors at play in the weekend’s byelections, including very low voter turnout, and that the B.C. Conservatives did not run candidates in those ridings in the 2020 or 2017 provincial elections.

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But the key factor, according to BC United Leader Kevin Falcon, was the party’s recent rebranding.

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“We knew we only changed our name 10 weeks ago and that we were going to pay a price for that, and we did, and that’s not altogether surprising,” Falcon said.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure people understand the new BC United, who we are, what we stand for, and that was reflected in the results.”

Falcon argued the Conservatives benefitted from the current popularity of Pierre Poilievre’s federal party on Vancouver Island, but were rejected in Vancouver due to “the divisive social conservative nonsense that that candidate was peddling.”

Despite the weekend’s poor showing, Falcon said his party has enough time to connect with voters before the next election.

He also remains confident in BC United’s focus on health care, public safety and affordability, he added.

“That anti-NDP vote didn’t know where to go because it didn’t recognize BC United and it went to B.C. Conservative, we will have that fixed by the time the next election rolls around,” he said.

Click to play video: 'BC NP win both byelections, keeping seats on Island and Vancouver'
BC NP win both byelections, keeping seats on Island and Vancouver

“I guarantee you, we will not only raise the money, we will have outstanding candidates, we’re going to have great policies and we’re going to win, I feel very confident about that.”

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Conservative filmmaker Aaron Gunn, however, argued voters were sending a clear message to BC United — whose rebranding he called “lipstick on a pig.”

Gunn was rejected from the last BC Liberal leadership race after party brass deemed his public and private comments were inconsistent with their commitment to reconciliation and diversity.

“When (voters) look at BC United they don’t see an alternative, in fact, they see in many cases the exact same policies, whether its support for decriminalization or support for the carbon tax,” he said.

The Conservatives, he argued, were offering voters a clearer alternative to the governing NDP.

“It’s upstart, it’s insurgent. And there’s a long story of these insurgent grassroots parties in British Columbia and western Canada more broadly,” he said.

Click to play video: 'BC United leader Kevin Falcon addresses crime issue'
BC United leader Kevin Falcon addresses crime issue

The B.C. Conservatives currently hold just one seat in the legislature — that of party leader John Rustad who was booted from the BC Liberals over a social media post questioning human-caused climate change.

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The party has never elected an MLA, but is pledging to run candidates in all 93 B.C. ridings next election, potentially threatening BC United on its right flank, particularly in Conservative-leaning areas like the Fraser Valley.

“BC United have always presented themselves as a coalition of Liberal and Conservative voters, but that coalition may now be broken,” Telford said.

“There’s no guarantee that coalition can be put back together now, Humpty Dumpty may not be able to be rebuilt at this time and the Conservatives may take the Conservative vote and the NDP takes the Liberal vote and BC United is left out high and dry.”

The silver lining for BC United is that the party will have 16 months to try and break through with voters.

B.C. Premier David Eby said Monday he has no plans to call an early election, meaning British Columbians will go to the polls, as planned, on Oct. 19, 2024.

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