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Shifting Sands

Part of a series on what the BC Liberals need to do from here: Conservative strategist and staffer Hannah Hodson argues social issues are no longer just local, and increasingly determine how even avowed fiscal conservatives vote.

I know what you're thinking: yet another thinkpiece about the future of the BC Liberals. But I think I bring a different perspective.

I read the piece in The Orca by Simrath Grewal, who I know and have worked with. He’s right about many things, including the vote declines on all sides. But he’s wrong about ideology not mattering.

On the contrary – ideology is everything.

During the election I heard from a surprising number of people – including former colleagues and BC Liberal partisans – who told me they weren’t sure they could vote for the party. The results indicate that sentiment wasn’t isolated, but shared by the electorate, especially in the Lower Mainland.

The complaints I heard were not pocketbook issues. No one mentioned taxes. What I heard were fears the party had abandoned them and their ideals. Accepting social conservatism was no longer congruent with how they saw their own politics. I also heard from people further on the right side of the spectrum the problem was the supposed bad treatment of candidates like Laurie Throness,  for what they felt were just his personal beliefs.

To me, that’s insulting. Full disclosure: I am a queer trans woman. I personally find some of the beliefs held by people like Throness hateful –  and a disqualifier for determining who I’d support.

Many people, including some longtime BC Liberal activists, argue we need to focus on what unites us, not what divides us. I think this is a misunderstanding of what’s happening in politics and culture. They see politics as largely how it used to be: pragmatic and about issue brokerage. Instead, politics has become about inspiring people, for good or bad.

In response to the US election, Sean Speer argues “Trump has shown that the way we think about modern campaigning, including how politicians mobilize voters, is basically wrong. The conventional view is that voters are motivated mostly by appeals to their narrow economic self-interest. This is how we end up with a politics of transactionalism that, by and large, involves different political parties competing for target voters with a mix of niche tax credits and cash transfers.

Trump has now shown over two election cycles that transactional politics cannot compete with the politics of enthusiasm.”

This is incredibly important to British Columbia and the BC Liberal Party. For many reasons, from social media reality silos and generational differences in how we see the world, the old ways don’t seem to work.

Younger people are simply not as willing to support a party they might agree with economically if they disagree on bedrock social issues, like LGBTQ rights. In contrast, the success and importance of social conservatives in elections like the US and the CPC leadership indicate an unwillingness to compromise their values.

For me, I am no longer willing to support a party that tolerates hate for who I am, even if we agree on things like taxes and the role of government.

This is all to say that refocusing solely on pocketbook issues and trying to separate ideology will not succeed. The BC Liberal Party needs to find a coherent ideological narrative that can inspire people and make them come out in support. Simply not being the NDP isn’t enough anymore. People used to be afraid of the NDP. That is no longer true – at least, not in numbers than turn elections.

I don’t necessarily think that means becoming a party more in-line with either the federal Conservatives or federal Liberals. Both scenarios would be an electoral disaster; there simply isn’t enough votes in either camp to win a provincial election.

However, if the party doesn’t become something – some central idea to bring to the voters, instead of trying buy off niche interests with pocketbook issues – I believe it will inevitably fail to form government.

It will be difficult, but not hopeless. I for one believe the party and the smart and talented people involved can make it work.

Political strategist Hannah Hodson works for a Conservative MP in Ottawa, and was a former communications coordinator for Premier Christy Clark.