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BC Conservative Party leader tours through Cranbrook

Rustad talks election issues during unofficial campaign tour into the East Kootenay
BC Conservative Party leader John Rustad (left) and Kootenay-Rockies candidate Pete Davis in the Spirit of the Rockies Festival parade. Trevor Crawley photo.

B.C. Conservative Party leader John Rustad toured through Cranbrook during Spirit of the Rockies, making a number of stops in the city and across the riding as the unofficial provincial election campaign heats up.

Campaigning along Rustad was local Kootenay-Rockies candidate Pete Davis, who recently announced his candidacy for the party, as the duo participated in the festival parade, held meet and greets in the South Country and Elk Valley, and toured Fort Steele Heritage Town.

In an interview at Fort Steele, Rustad noted stories of people leaving B.C. because of affordability, specifically noting the carbon tax, mill closures and curtailments, and higher day-to-day costs of running a small business.

“People want change, they’re frustrated,” Rustad said. “They want to be able to build a future and they’re finding it extremely difficult to do so in British Columbia.”

Rustad has served in public office — including as cabinet minister with various portfolios — since 2005, and currently represents the riding of Nechako Lakes. He was a member of the BC Liberal Party, before it rebranded to BC United, but was ejected from caucus in 2022 over discourse on climate change, particularly the role and affect that carbon dioxide has on global warming. 

He then sat as an independent MLA until joining the B.C. Conservative Party last year, soon becoming the leader after an acclimation by party membership.

The provincial conservative party has been surging in the polls, eclipsing BC United, which has traditionally served as the centre-right free-enterprise coalition. 

Merger talks between the provincial conservatives and BC United blew up at the end of May, as Rustad bluntly noted those conversations were done. 

“Having said that, as the Conservative Party of British Columbia, we’re always reaching out to people. We want to continue to grow our party, we want to continue to make it a big-tent party where people can feel welcome,” Rustad said. 

"Our door is open to the United party, to their members, to the people that are in that organization — work with us, let’s find a way to work together, but a merger, or this sort of non-competition, there’s no time for any of that kind of stuff.

"We’re three months out from the writ starting, we just got to get at it and make sure our singular focus going forward is defeating this radical NDP government.”

Rustad expressed confidence that the Conservative party would field a candidate in all 93 ridings, noting that there’s roughly 70 in place, with another 15-20 in the works, either at the nomination and vetting process. 

Two BC United incumbent MLAs have also recently crossed the floor to join the BC Conservatives. On the flip side, the party has already dropped a pair of candidates for social media commentary on Pride and COVID-19 vaccines, respectively.

Rustad noted the party will be rolling out some policy pieces over the summer, but said common campaign themes include concerns over housing affordability, the federal government’s approval of the NDP’s request to decriminalize possession of small amounts of hard drugs, and sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) policies in schools.

He said the social conservative wing of the party isn’t going to impact efforts to broaden the party’s appeal across the spectrum, adding that a former NDP MLA is the party’s nominee in a Vancouver Island riding.

“We’re trying to be a large-tent party. For example, a lot of people who are on the more social conservative side, they’re extremely concerned about what’s going on in our schools, with SOGI and how divisive it is,” Rustad said. “We want to be able to get rid of that, but at the same time, we also want to make sure that we have a very strong anti-bullying program in place and we’ve got support for students. 

“We’re not going to be everything to everyone — we can’t be — but what we’re going to be is we’re going to stand on our principles, these are the values that we have, these are the things we’re going to do, and we’re inviting people to cone in and be a part of that and support the change that’s needed in British Columbia.”


Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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