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BC Politics

Please Advise! Does One MLA Make the BC Conservatives a Force?

No, says Dr. Steve. But that doesn’t mean Kevin Falcon is thrilled about John Rustad’s move.

Steve Burgess 22 Feb

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Read his previous articles.

[Editor’s note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a PhD in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

Dear Dr. Steve,

Former Liberal MLA John Rustad has joined the B.C. Conservative party, giving them a presence in the legislature. What does it mean for B.C. politics?



Dear Caucasian,

There is a traditional method for a political party to enter the legislature — they elect MLAs in the provincial election. But in politics, there's more than one way to skin a cat.

For example, let's say you are an MLA who has just spoken out in favour of skinning cats. Your party, terrified of losing donations from the feline lobby and decent humans, ejects you from caucus. You are now a free agent, and just as in the sports world your value has increased beyond all rational measurement. If the right suitor comes calling you can get yourself a deal like Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

That's the story here. The Conservatives have made a splash at the trade deadline and could now be playoff contenders.

They certainly needed a boost. Kevin Falcon's recent poll to find a new name for the former BC Liberals drew quite a few suggestions that they call themselves the BC Conservatives, which is a little like somebody pointing to your theatre seat and asking “Anybody sitting here?”

You certainly have to feel for the voters of the Nechako Lakes riding in northern B.C. They voted for a BC Liberal in 2020, got an Independent last summer when Falcon kicked Rustad out of caucus, and now have themselves a BC Conservative. If this was an eBay order you would send it back. For that matter every British Columbia riding that elected a brand-name BC Liberal last election will soon be sporting a BC United knock-off. When you buy a designer handbag, you don't want the label to read “Parda.”

Falcon professes himself unconcerned about Rustad's defection. That's fair. The manager of a McDonald's cannot be expected to lose sleep if a Quiznos opens up next door. But BC United/Liberals cannot be too pleased either. Fighting a two-front war has thwarted would-be conquerors before.

Still, if the NDP are rubbing their hands with glee over this development, they should not get too smug. They have brand overlap issues of their own.

Just as the leaves turn from green to orange come autumn, Anjali Appadurai's NDP leadership campaign was dropped, raked and mulched. Last fall the party responded to Appadurai's environmentally oriented bid like antibodies to a virus.

Party leaders are surely aware of how these things can spread. Viewers of HBO's The Last of Us know an infection can creep in and take over an entire body, and observers of B.C. politics know it too. Gordon Campbell did it with the BC Liberals. Former leader Gordon Wilson's party was then transformed into a sort of zombie Social Credit.

The NDP must feel they fought off a similar infection from Appadurai's supporters. One day you are holding a nice, safe one-candidate leadership race and the next morning you wake up bright Green. Amputation, they felt, was brutal but necessary.

Rustad himself was amputated from the BC Liberals after disavowing his party's official line on climate change. A little embarrassing for Falcon's party, as Rustad had formerly been opposition critic for forests, lands and natural resources. The uncomfortable impression was that Rustad was actually a critic of forests, lands and natural resources. Exterminate them!

Rustad disputes this interpretation of his stance, insisting that he knows climate change is real but disagrees with some of the policies proposed to deal with it. He also told the Vancouver Sun's Vaughn Palmer that he doesn't think Falcon's BC United party can win the next election. To Falcon this must be like having a termite complain that your floorboards are rotten. If Rustad's revived Conservatives can chew their way into Falcon's support it could sink his chances of being premier.

Even more disturbing for Falcon is a recent comment from Liberal MLA Ellis Ross, who told reporter Richard Zussman that he was still a Liberal “currently.” Considering that, early in Shakespeare's Scottish play, Macbeth could well have given an interview insisting “I have no plans to murder Duncan in his sleep at this time,” Falcon is unlikely to feel reassured.

One can almost imagine David Eby and Kevin Falcon making common cause, unlikely allies teaming up just like Rocky and Apollo Creed in Rocky III to battle a common enemy, which in this case would be vote-splitting rather than Mr. T.

As for Rustad, he is now the lone MLA for a party that certainly has a famous brand. However, as he begins grappling with that name he may be forced to figure out how he feels about cryptocurrency, the Freedom Convoy and CBC-bashing.

If he's not on board with all that, it could require a name change. How about New Social Credit?  [Tyee]

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