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Rob Shaw: SOGI, Bonnie Henry in the crosshairs of newly minted BC Conservative MLA Sturko

Former BC United politician wastes no time challenging previous party positions after crossing the floor Monday
BC Conservative MLA Elenore Sturko has been making her mark defecting from BC United earlier this week.

B.C.’s newest Conservative MLA, Elenore Sturko, has wasted no time using her newfound freedom from the BC United caucus to sharpen up some controversial ideas that she dared not express while with her old party.

Sturko on Tuesday jumped on testimony B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry made to an all-party health committee of MPs in Ottawa, in which Dr. Henry said the illegality of hard drugs has contributed to the toxic drug crisis that has killed more than 14,000 people.

“I support legalization and regulation of drugs to minimize harms,” said Dr. Herny.

Sturko took to social media to respond.

“I was appalled by Dr. Bonnie Henry's call for legalization of heroin, cocaine, meth & other hard drugs in Ottawa,” Sturko posted.

“David Eby needs to fire Dr. Henry immediately.”

Conservative Leader John Rustad is already on record as saying he’d fire Dr. Henry if he forms government this October — though he’s mainly justified it on Dr. Henry’s continued insistence of a vaccine requirement for health-care workers.

Sturko had been critical of Dr. Henry in the past too, under BC United, but never quite that far.

As addictions critic, she led the charge against the failures of decriminalization — a policy which Dr. Henry helped craft. Her continued sharp questioning of the unintended consequences of decrim, in the form of street disorder, drug use and crime, was not an insignificant factor in ramping up the public pressure that forced the BC NDP to backtrack and recriminalize drug use in public places.

Sturko was also critical of Dr. Henry’s safe supply program, saying it has led to diversion of government drugs for resale by organized crime on the street. Police chiefs verified that diversion during testimony to MPs in April. Premier David Eby then quietly announced he would explore putting tracers in safe supply drugs, to quantify the extent of the diversion concerns.

Despite all those critical successes, Sturko always stopped short of calling for Dr. Henry to lose her job.

Targeting B.C.’s top public health official was never, officially, BC United’s position. Falcon calculated that in the mainstream voting public, there remains much goodwill toward Dr. Henry for her calm handling of the pandemic during frightening times.

The Conservatives, though, aren’t trying to appeal to that same mainstream. Many in the party hate Dr. Henry. And so Sturko is able to extend her past criticism to the next level, unconstrained.

The same dynamic appears to be playing out on SOGI, the sexual orientation and gender identity learning module in B.C. schools.

SOGI is a voluntary set of learning tools to help send a message of acceptance to students of different family structures, as well as the LGBTQ community. Yet it has become a political football in the past year, as opponents mischaracterize it as part of an effort to sexualize children.

The BC Conservatives took it the furthest, with Rustad raising the issue in the legislature. Eby called it shameful, and at the time Sturko helped lead a standing ovation on the United bench in support of Eby’s response.

Now though, she’s switched positions to go alongside switching parties.

“I think we definitely need to take a look at SOGI,” Sturko said Monday, standing alongside Rustad.

“Finding an opportunity to create something new for our school system that respects legally enshrined rights and rebuilds the trust, and finally puts this division to bed, I think is a wonderful thing to do.”

It was a far cry from when Sturko wrote to the BC Teachers’ Federation just nine months ago professing to be proud of her party’s history leading on SOGI, or demanding Rustad apologize for comparing SOGI to Indigenous children being placed in residential schools.

The incongruence has left Sturko open to attack by members of the LGBTQ community and her old party, who question how she can align with a party where candidates have called gay people degenerates, perverts and groomers.

“Maybe that's the distinguishing feature between herself and myself, because I can tell you this, for me, I would rather lose an election over and over and over than sacrifice my own integrity and principles and values,” BC United Leader Kevin Falcon told me.

“I would not run for a party that has the kind of extreme views that John Rustad and his party have. Full stop.”

But not everyone agrees.

United’s candidate for Coquitlam-Maillardville, Brandon Fonseca, followed Sturko and Lorne Doerkson out the door. Ironically, he had been a previous vice-president in the BC Conservatives.

“I felt as a candidate very distressing signs working inside that campaign,” Fonseca told me.

“It was very clear the BC United team did not fully grasp the potential threat the BC Conservatives held to them for that free enterprise vote. And I think they took for granted that conservative base.”

Falcon insists he’s checked with his other candidates and MLAs and they won’t be crossing to the Conservatives.

We’ll see. The preferred choice for the centre-right vote in the province appears to be evolving. As do the positions of the people who have left United to join the BC Conservatives.

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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