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BC Conservative leader says he felt non-competition deal would seal NDP victory

BC Conservatives rejected coalition with BC United to avoid handing victory to NDP.
BC Conservative leader John Rustad.

The BC Conservative Party felt a deal with the Official Opposition would hand the NDP government an election victory this fall.

That’s the reason the upstart provincial party rejected an offer to work with the fellow right-of-centre BC United Party, Conservative leader John Rustad told Castanet on Monday.

He was in Kamloops speaking with local reporters and attending a party rally downtown. The Nechako Lakes MLA said he’s only ever exchanged pleasantries with BC United head Kevin Falcon and the two did not engage in any back-and-forth conversations about a deal.

BC United said it presented a non-competition framework that would keep the parties separate, but form a coalition government if they combined for enough seats to defeat the NDP on Oct. 19.

Rustad told Castanet Kamloops he felt the deal would end up leading to the NDP winning the election.

“They put an offer on the table to do this non competition, and we looked at it [and] thought all this will do is lead to an NDP government, so we can’t support that,” Rustad said.

He said his party has seen polling showing that with BC United out of the field, the Conservatives would have a six point lead over the NDP and, if there was no BC Conservatives option, the United would be 20 points behind NDP.

“When you look at that kind of polling, it doesn't make sense for us to hand those seats over to the NDP,” Rustad said.

In a statement, Falcon blamed Rustad for prioritizing "his own ambition" in rejecting the offer and noted Rustad turned down the United proposal without making a counter-offer.

Timeline too short for collaboration

Rustad said he felt there were opportunities to collaborate months ago, but not under the current time frame.

“We're 115 days or something like that out to the election starts. It just isn't the time to be able to do anything complex,” Rustad said.

He said the Conservatives reached out to the BCU in December and February about a potential merger, but their team members were met with hostile responses from BCU representatives – claiming they were told to ‘F#ck Off’ in December and in February, that Falcon would dictate the terms of talks.

According to the BCU, there were only ever two “officially sanctioned” meetings between party representatives, which occurred in May.

"Despite the common ground achieved during these meetings, last night [May 23] John Rustad decided to reject a reasonable offer aimed at preventing a vote split, risking another four years of (Premier David) Eby’s NDP government that will further jeopardize the well-being of this province," Falcon's statement on Friday said.

Asked if there’s concern of vote splitting in the absence of a deal with the BC United, Rustad told Castanet the Conservatives are “fighting to win this election.”

“Our sole focus is to defeat the NDP and so we're interested in doing anything and everything we can to make sure that we prevent the NDP from continuing it's the destructive reign on this province,” Rustad said.

Rustad has promised to field a full slate of candidates in all 93 B.C. ridings in October.

Deal would have local impact

Under the proposed agreement, the parties would not run candidates against each other’s MLAs who are running for re-election — two BC Conservative seats, including Rustad’s, and 15 BC United seats.

In Kamloops, that would’ve meant Conservative candidates Dennis Giesbrecht and Barriere Mayor Ward Stamer would drop out of the race against incumbents for Kamloops-North and South Thompson Peter Milobar and Todd Stone.

The deal would’ve seen the Conservatives run 47 candidates and the United 46 as they have more incumbents to protect.

The seats were to be divided up between the parties in a draft format, whereby the BC Conservatives could select three choices for each one that BC United made until each party has picked the same number of ridings (including incumbents). From that point, the parties would alternate choices until the agreed-upon total number of seats for each party was reached.

According to Research Co. Polling for May, the Conservative Party of BC is now solidly in second place among decided voters across the province, at 32 per cent (up five points since an April survey). The BC NDP is still ahead at 42 per cent (down three points).

BC United has dropped to a historic low of 12 per cent (down three points). The former BC Liberals went from being in a statistical tie for second place with the Conservatives in September to a tie for third with the BC Green Party (12 per cent, up one point) eight months later.

The standings in the current 87-seat B.C. legislature are: 55 NDP, 26 BC United, two BC Greens, two BC Conservatives and two independents.