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Rob Shaw: BC Conservatives risking their momentum with major candidate vetting failures

The choice and expulsion of Dr. Stephen Malthouse illustrates an ongoing challenge for the party
Dr. Stephen Malthouse is no longer a BC Conservative candidate

The BC Conservative party continues its dangerous flirtation with conspiracy theorists, ejecting two candidates recently whose views about health care were too whacky for leader John Rustad to defend.

The expulsions highlight an emerging issue of concern for the Conservatives: Candidate vetting, or the lack thereof. How is the party missing the warning signs of extremism amongst the people it nominates? And how many times can that mistake occur, before it starts to undercut the legitimacy of the party?

The case of Dr. Stephen Malthouse is an illustrative one.

The party knew the good doctor was way out there on the issue of vaccines. Malthouse’s suspension by the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2022, for arguing vaccines were more harmful than COVID-19, was a national story, as were the allegations he sold fraudulent vaccine exemption forms online.

The party nonetheless invited Malthouse to the legislature to stand beside Rustad and MLA Bruce Banman in November to speak about health-care issues. When his candidacy was announced Wednesday for the riding of Oceanside-Ladysmith, on mid-Vancouver Island, the Conservatives actually leaned into the issue.

“He is a health care professional who is not afraid to challenge the status quo,” read the party bio for Malthouse, which has since been deleted.

The Conservatives trumpeted how he could “speak Truth to Power” and how “he has faced criticism and censorship from his medical college for public statements challenging the mainstream narrative on the pandemic and the safety of vaccines.”

The party appeared ready, willing and eager to champion Malthouse as some sort of victim of free speech suppression by the tyranny of mainstream medical leaders—an extension of Rustad’s position that B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry should be fired.

But the Conservatives misjudged the depth of Malthouse’s views. The leader insisted on him as a candidate. And the party failed to vet him properly.

They missed the fact he attended the “International Crisis Summit” in Romania last year, in which he delivered a presentation that called for the worldwide elimination of all vaccines on everything—which is not the position of the Conservatives, especially during an emerging measles outbreak.

“I think we need to get rid of vaccines entirely,” Malthouse said to applause at the convention. “I think we need to get rid of childhood vaccines…

“No childhood vaccine should be given to any child.”

They missed Malthouse’s appeal for “energy medicine” instead of antibiotics and modern-day pharmaceuticals. They missed his diatribe about artificial intelligence taking over doctors. They missed his rejection of modern medicine by saying “conventional drugs only make the person sicker and never cures them.”

They missed his bizarre description of “the great reveal”—some sort of worldwide event that would expose the corruption behind pharmaceutical companies, governments and the health-care industry.

They missed his (incorrect) insistence the COVID-19 vaccine caused magnetism in people. “We have seen things like magnetism, things sticking to people. It's well proven,” Malthouse said in 2021, in a speech in Kelowna covered by Castanet.

They missed his claim that people who get vaccinated set off airport metal detectors.

That’s likely only the tip of the iceberg. But the Conservatives missed it all.

And so when all this came to light immediately following Malthouse’s candidacy being announced, the party had to do a hard pivot. It was impossible for Rustad to defend any of that nonsense, and still look like a legitimate leader of a mainstream party.

Within six hours, the Conservatives dropped Malthouse and retreated.

This is not the first candidate to implode.

The party’s Esquimalt candidate, Jan Webb, was fired several weeks ago after she claimed on social media that people should stay away from “those recently injected due to the phenomenon of spike protein shedding” that would make them more likely to infect others with COVID-19. The claim is not true.

“Webb is a trained nurse, and frankly she should know better than this,” party president Aisha Estey said in a statement announcing her termination.

But the party should know better too. It’s straddling a dangerous line—greenlighting candidates from the health care system with extreme views about COVID-19, then being surprised when those extreme views get out of hand and the leader can’t defend them in any rational way.

It’s also entirely unnecessary.

The October election won’t be fought on a retrospective look at COVID-19, despite how angry a vocal minority remain on social media. The same polls that show the BC Conservatives surging in popularity make clear that the main issues on the minds of voters are affordability, public safety, housing and (current) health-care performance in areas like emergency-room closures and the doctor shortage.

The party’s vetting problems must be deeply frustrating for the more respectable candidates the Conservatives have recruited, including: Environmental lawyer Tim Thielmann in Victoria-Beacon Hill; radio host Tegjot Bal in Surrey-Newton, Penticton councillor Amelia Boultbee in Pencticton-Summerland; Realtor Mike Harris in Langford; former RCMP officer Macklin McCall in West Kelowna-Peachland, Barriere mayor Ward Stamer in Kamloops-North Thompson, and former Lt.-Gov. Steven Point’s daughter Á’a:líya Warbus in Chilliwack-Cultus Lake, to name a few.

Every time an extremist implodes into scandal over something outrageous, it diminishes the party brand and smears each of those candidates by extension.

The Conservatives still need to appeal to some mainstream British Columbians if they hope to form official opposition, or even government. But it won’t take many more crazy candidates saying stupid things to turn those middle-of-the-road voters away.

Right now, momentum appears to be on the party’s side. The Conservatives are enjoying a surge in popularity. They would be wise not to squander it by associating with any more tinfoil-hat whacko nutjobs.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 16 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.

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