Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad, a former BC Liberal, announced Thursday he is running to become BC Conservative leader, saying voters need an alternative to the province’s two main parties.
Rustad talked about the need to form a broad coalition, but made specific overtures to truck convoy supporters and people concerned with what their children are learning in schools being at odds with the “family values” they may have at home.
“We have an NDP party, we have an NDP-lite party, or whatever the BC Liberal Party are calling themselves these days, but we do not have a party that actually promotes and supports people individually to be able to fight for their ridings,” Rustad said in a phone interview.
“We also do not have a party that’s going to stand up and just fight for everyday British Columbians.”
Rustad said neither the NDP nor the Liberals are providing the options he believes British Columbians want. “The province needs to go in a different direction and I feel that the Conservative Party of British Columbia can build that new coalition and provide that direction for the province.”
While the BC Conservative party ran candidates in just 19 of the province's 87 constituencies in the last election and received less than two per cent of the vote, a reinvigorated party has the potential to be a significant factor in close races the next time the province goes to the polls.
BC Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon kicked Rustad out of the party caucus in August after the northern B.C. MLA posted tweets questioning climate science and declined to commit to sticking to the party’s platform on the issue.
Rustad sat for several months as an Independent before announcing in February that he would join the BC Conservatives and become the party’s sole MLA. When the leadership came open, he was immediately seen as a frontrunner for the job.
“The key in my mind is we cannot be a party that is driven by ideology,” said Rustad. “It can’t be about Conservatives, or Liberals, or NDP, it has to be a party about British Columbians to be a true coalition, because you need to be able to draw across the political spectrum.”
Many people feel alienated from politics and don’t see either the government or Falcon’s opposition representing their values, he said.
“He’s trying to follow this woke ideology and I just don’t believe it’s going to resonate with people in this province,” Rustad said.
“I just think quite frankly the Liberal party has run its course. It’s lost its moral compass. It is no longer a coalition party and we have to have a new coalition party to be able to have an opportunity to govern in this province.”
Rustad made clear where the first building blocks for a coalition are likely to come from.
“I am the only MLA who has publicly supported the freedom movement in our province. I am proudly pro-freedom and pro-trucker, and I'm fighting to end mandates and hire back our health-care heroes.”
He talked about fighting for affordability and good paying jobs, but also “for parents rights to teach their children their family values.”
If he’s wanting to build a coalition, why start with groups that some mainstream voters might be reluctant to be associated with?
“The people who I mentioned in the press release really don’t have a home right now,” Rustad said, “so I thought I would reach out to them and show that we can be a home for them, but we obviously need to be much bigger than that if we want to be a true coalition to govern the province of British Columbia.”
And how exactly are parents prevented from teaching their values to their children?
“I hear from a lot of people around the province that our education system is being diluted, it has been watered down, and needs quite frankly to be refocused on academics to be able to prepare students for their future,” said Rustad.
“Go and look at the curriculum and all the values and the issues that are being taught in our classrooms today,” he said. “There is a wide range of them and I’m not going to label any one particular thing, but we seem to have got away from the basics of education and what the purpose of our education is for.”
The education system should be teaching kids “how” to think, not “what” to think, he said.
Despite the clear appeals to social conservatives who may not feel at home in the larger parties, Rustad insisted a BC Conservative party under his leadership would be welcoming to all.
“As a political party we should not be hiving off groups and labelling groups and practising the politics of division,” he said.
Rustad was first elected in 2005 and served as the minister of Aboriginal relations and reconciliation in then premier Christy Clark's government. He is the first person to announce he is seeking the BC Conservative leadership. Applications are due by Tuesday and a vote is scheduled for May 28 if it’s needed.
The speed of the contest makes sense so that the party can be ready for either an early election or the one scheduled for October 2024, said Rustad, adding the goal is to run candidates in every constituency and for enough of them to win to form the government.
“It’s a long way to go and I know there’s a short time to get there, but that’s the goal,” he said. “I’m optimistic we’ll be able to grow this party.”
Read more: BC Politics
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