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BC Politics

High-Profile BC United MLA Elenore Sturko Jumps to the Conservatives

The upstart party has the best chance of defeating the NDP, she says.

Andrew MacLeod 3 Jun 2024The Tyee

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of All Together Healthy (Douglas & McIntyre, 2018). Find him on X or reach him at .

The earthquake in British Columbia politics continued today with Surrey South MLA Elenore Sturko announcing she is leaving BC United, where she has been one of the party’s most effective performers, to join the Conservatives.

“If you are a person that wants to remove the NDP and their disastrous policies from British Columbia, then we need to get together and join a party that is resonating with British Columbians right now,” Sturko said. “That party is the B.C. Conservatives and John Rustad.”

Her path follows Friday’s announcement that Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Lorne Doerkson left BC United to join the Conservatives.

A former RCMP officer and “proud lesbian,” Sturko has represented Surrey South since the 2022 byelection and been a fierce critic on public safety and the toxic drug crisis. In October she plans to run in Surrey-Cloverdale, where the incumbent is NDP backbencher Mike Starchuk.

Sturko said she has gotten along well with BC United Leader Kevin Falcon, liked some of his ideas and appreciated the opportunity he gave her, but that he’s largely responsible for the party’s low popularity.

“I think it comes down to the leadership and to who is resonating personally with people, and unfortunately Kevin Falcon hasn’t been resonating with voters. It’s disappointing, I’m sure, for him,” she said.

Speaking to reporters this afternoon Falcon said he is “disappointed and frankly shocked” by Sturko’s decision. “Especially going over to a party that she has long disavowed both to me personally and to our caucus for being far too extremist and... having positions that no mainstream British Columbian is going to feel comfortable with.”

Falcon said he felt personally betrayed, having gone out on a limb to appoint Sturko as the candidate in Surrey South, adding he raised money and knocked on doors for her. “I did a whole bunch of things to help her become the very good person that she is, and she was very effective in opposition.”

Stressing that he likes Sturko personally, he said, “I'm just shocked that she could make a decision that just goes so against her personal values and principles, which she has expressed to us so repeatedly.”

BC United communications director Adam Wilson emailed a statement along with nine pages of social media exchanges between Sturko and the B.C. Conservatives.

"Elenore will have to explain to her supporters and voters why she is joining a party with candidates who have called her a ‘groomer,’ ‘hypocrite,’ ‘hypersensitive,’ ‘woke,’ ‘far-left,’ a ‘COVID zealot’ and accused her of ‘pushing radical ideologies on kids,’” said Wilson.

Sturko’s decision to leave BC United appears self-serving, he said. "Elenore’s decision to run for a party that is so out of line with her values and priorities in a new riding is shocking, and shows she cares more about her pension than her principles,” he said.

“Why else would Elenore run on a slate of candidates who are COVID-19 conspiracy theorists, anti-LGBTQ+ rights, anti-choice and climate change denialists?”

Sturko said people say lots of things on social media and parties bring past posts up as political ammunition when it suits them, but it’s more important what’s happening in the real world.

“I’m not interested in fighting with the right. I’m interested in defeating the NDP and making life better for British Columbians,” Sturko said.

She acknowledged she will have disagreements with some of her new colleagues, but added the same was true in the party she is leaving.

“The part of being in a coalition is not that we force each other to believe in everybody else’s points of view, it’s that we find a way to look at what’s in the best interest of British Columbians, find the common ground, find the things where we are united,” said Sturko.

The focus needs to be on making the province more affordable, growing the economy, increasing public safety, building homes and addressing the opioid crisis, she said. She also mentioned the record level of provincial debt and seniors living in poverty as priority issues.

The Conservatives have been particularly critical of the sexual orientation and gender identity materials used in schools and Rustad has called them “an assault on parents’ rights” and a distraction from education.

Asked about that record, Sturko said she shares concerns about some of the materials herself and that it’s a topic many MLAs hear about from constituents. “I think we definitely need to take a look at SOGI,” she said.

There’s an opportunity to create something new that respects legally enshrined rights while rebuilding trust with parents, she said.

Known as SOGI 123, the province’s sexual orientation and gender identity resources were developed with input from school districts, the University of British Columbia and the Ministry of Education. They include lesson plans for kindergarten to Grade 12 that are deemed appropriate for each grade, as well as templates for administrative policy and professional development for teachers.

The goal is to create a safe and inclusive environment. Supporters say having policies and procedures that explicitly reference SOGI is proven to reduce discrimination, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts for all students.

“I’ve not abandoned the LGBTQ+ community, I’m part of it,” Sturko said in response to a reporter’s question, adding that she will continue defending human rights.

“We also think that it’s extremely important for us to focus on the issues that are affecting British Columbians the most,” she said. “Right now people are dying on waiting lists for health care, can’t afford to live in British Columbia, leaving the province in droves and that’s what I’ll be focused on.”

In recent public opinion surveys the Conservatives have been seeing support well ahead of BC United and closing on the governing NDP, support that has grown steadily over the last 17 months.

BC United and the Conservatives held talks in May about collaborating, but last week announced they’d failed to reach an agreement.

The Conservatives gained a presence in the legislature last year when Rustad, who BC United Leader Falcon booted from what was then the BC Liberal caucus over a dispute around climate change and party discipline, joined the Conservatives and became leader.

Last September Abbotsford South MLA Bruce Banman left BC United to join Rustad and the Conservatives.

The party has also faced speed bumps as it has grown. Last week Damon Scrase stepped down as the party’s candidate in Courtenay-Comox following attention to social media posts he’d made, including one referring to some Pride parade participants as “degenerates.”

Scrase was at least the third of the party’s candidates to resign amid controversy over their past statements.

With the Conservatives gaining two MLAs from BC United since Friday, Rustad had a two-word answer when asked if more such announcements are coming: “Stay tuned.”  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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