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Les Leyne: Could the upstart B.C. Conservatives swallow BC United whole?

Starting from nothing just 14 months ago, John Rustad now has four MLAs and a wide lead over BC United in the polls

After 13 months of mushing around in the middle, the BC United Party now looks like it is swirling down the drain.

The one caucus member who BC United Leader Kevin Falcon couldn’t afford to lose was Elenore Sturko. After winning a Surrey byelection in 2022, she became a leading Opposition light when it came to lambasting the NDP government’s muddling efforts on law and order and addiction.

She bolted to John Rustad’s Conservative Party of B.C. on Monday, four days after Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Lorne Doerkson did the same thing.

Both defections came after half-hearted talks about a merger or co-operation agreement between the two parties went nowhere.

A handful of other United MLAs with strong holds on their ridings are quitting to run ­federally for the Conservatives and another larger group is retiring.

Rustad, who was kicked out of the BC United caucus in 2022, is now well on his way to engineering a political reverse takeover for the ages. It’s conceivable that his upstart party will swallow the once mighty BC United-B.C. Liberal movement whole.

Starting from nothing just 14 months ago, Rustad now has four MLAs, a wide lead over the United party in the polls and is close enough to the NDP to make things interesting in this fall’s election.

Falcon relied for months on the belief the B.C. Conservative momentum is a mirage created by provincial voters confusing Rustad’s outfit with the surging federal Conservatives.

“I have to patiently explain this over and over,” he said last month.

“There’s a lot of voter confusion out there because when they’re thinking Conservative, they’re actually thinking federal Conservatives.”

That looks like a fallacy now. The provincial Conservative growth is homegrown, and for real. If there’s any confusion, it’s about what BC United is, and what it stands for.

There was a key moment in the legislature last spring that resonates today.

After Rustad went on a tirade about sexual orientation and gender identity material in schools that “sexualizes children” and amounts to an attack on parents’ rights, Eby lashed out at him for picking on kids at risk of suicide.

He got a spontaneous standing ovation, and most United MLAs joined in, unprecedented during the partisan question period.

They were caught in the middle on a divisive issue and they’ve been stuck there ever since.

The party adapted its stance on the carbon tax, on Indigenous reconciliation, on safe supply of opioids, decriminalization and other issues. They’ve been groping around trying to appeal to a middle ground that looks to be shrinking day by day.

BC United is the latest name for the “free enterprise coalition” that has run against the NDP for 70 years in B.C.

But Sturko and Rustad insisted Monday that the coalition is now represented by the B.C. Conservatives.

“If you’re the leader of a coalition, you have one job,” Sturko said. “And that job is to bring people together. … And Kevin Falcon failed at that job.”

Her new boss has the same job, and a big part of it will be welcoming a proudly gay former Mountie onto a team that she used to routinely attack for being homophobic, and which returned fire on assorted other issues with abandon.

One of their Vancouver candidates once called her a “woke, lesbian social justice warrior” two years ago. Sturko said he has since apologized, and she accepted it.

On Monday, she airily dismissed all the social-media slurs that were traded as just Twitterverse chatter. No doubt Rustad will order all members to let bygones be bygones as well.

Falcon said he felt personally betrayed by her defection. “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.”

He dismissed the idea of any further defections and insisted BC United is going over well on doorsteps. But Sturko’s short walk undermines his talk.

Just So You Know: Forty-nine years ago, the B.C. Liberal caucus imploded when three of its MLAs — Garde Gardom, Allan Williams and Dr. Pat McGeer — left leader David Anderson in the lurch and joined the surging Social Credit.

Then-premier Dave Barrett summed it up: “When opportunity knocks, strange things happen.”

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