The retirement of well-known BC United MLAs in Penticton, Squamish and Prince George has put those ridings into play for the next election, highlighting the difficulty facing leader Kevin Falcon as he attempts to renew his party’s ranks during a downswing in popularity.
Prince George MLA Mike Morris, West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy and Penticton MLA Dan Ashton recently announced their intentions not to run again, jeopardizing BC United’s hold on three incumbent ridings at a time when the party desperately needs to not only retain those seats but also chip into the BC NDP’s 30-seat lead.
Combined with what’s expected to be difficult challenges from the BC Conservatives against the Peace Region’s two United MLAs, and Falcon is facing the prospect of having to redirect precious time and money — neither of which he has in abundance — away from picking up new seats in the October election, to backstopping almost half-a-dozen ridings his party already holds.
Sturdy’s riding is particularly precarious. He only defeated BC Green candidate Jeremy Valeriote by 60 voters in 2020, after a judicial recount.
The BC Greens intend to run Valeriote again, with the hopes that Sturdy’s departure, alongside BC United name confusion, gets them over the finish line. It represents the best chance the Greens have anywhere in the province for picking up a third seat.
Prince George-Mackenzie was comfortable territory for Morris the last three elections, but his departure comes as the BC Conservatives name well-known local school board chair Rachel Weber as their candidate.
The rise of the Conservatives, as well as the potential for a centre-right vote split that allows the NDP to come up the middle, means BC United will need to dedicate election resources in Prince George that it otherwise would not have had to allocate if Morris had run again.
‘I know what pressure is about’
In a year-end interview, Falcon brushed aside polling numbers, the BC Conservatives, and the daunting task he faces to not only renew his party but also introduce new candidates during a time of voter disorientation around the new BC United name.
“I’ve been under pressure before, I know what pressure is all about,” he said. “But I also know what it takes to win.”
Falcon said he wants to have all his new candidates announced by spring.
“I want to make sure by the end of May that we’ve got all our candidates laid in place and that we’re ready to go,” he said.
Ashton vacates long-time BC United stronghold in Penticton
Ashton, who was first elected in 2013 after serving as Penticton’s mayor, did not give a reason for his retirement. In an interview with the Kelowna Daily Courier, he didn’t rule out a run as the region’s MP.
He told the publication he’s heard of “some very good people” who might want to run for BC United in his place.
Penticton has been BC Liberal/United territory for almost three decades. The margin of victory, however, was tighter in 2020 than in 2017. The potential United-Conservative vote split gives the BC NDP potential here in October as well.
Falcon said the public is not paying attention to B.C. politics 10 months before the election, and he still has time to develop his party’s platform and slate of candidates.
“There’s no shortcuts to success in politics,” he said. “That’s why I ignore polls and pundits and all the rest of it.
“Because I know what it actually takes to win. It takes money, it takes members and it takes message. And that means you’ve got to roll up your sleeves, you’ve got to get out there, you’ve got to talk to people, you’ve got to drive home your message.
“You’ve got to make sure people understand how committed you are to really fixing the challenges we face in British Columbia, the cost of living crisis, the crime crisis, and the fact that we’ve got a healthcare crisis, and go to the public with common sense solutions that are credible and well-thought through.”
Still though, it’s not an ideal situation for the BC United leader. Falcon needs to at least double his party’s seat count, break back into voter-rich Metro Vancouver, and defend his base in the interior and north — all while being buffeted on the political left and right by powerful opponents that see advantages in every retirement from his caucus.
“Ten months out from an election, Rob, I’ve been around for a few elections, as you know,” he said.
“I don’t get too fazed by things. That’s the benefit of having previously had 12 years experience in public life, but also having decades of private sector experience.”
B.C.’s election is set for Oct. 19, 2024.