B.C. Liberal leader Kevin Falcon has removed longtime MLA John Rustad from the party caucus after Rustad boosted a social media post casting doubt on climate change science and urging people to "celebrate CO2."
In posts on both Facebook and Twitter, Rustad, the MLA for the Nechako Lakes riding west of Prince George, shared a graphic and post arguing that people had been "hoodwinked" by climate change science and they should be glad CO2 is being emitted into the atmosphere.
In response, Kevin Falcon, who was elected leader of the party in February, distanced himself from Rustad's stance, tweeting, "#ClimateChange is one of the most critical threats facing our future," and that Rustad "does not speak on behalf of caucus on this issue."
That tweet went out Wednesday, and on Thursday, Falcon issued the following statement: "Politics is a team sport, and British Columbians expect their elected officials to work co-operatively on the important issues facing our province.
"Following a pattern of behaviour that was not supportive of our caucus team and the principles of mutual respect and trust, I have removed MLA John Rustad from the B.C. Liberal Caucus effective immediately."
Falcon told CBC he tried to get in touch with Rustad following the tweet in question but could not reach him until Thursday. When they spoke, he told him he needed to be a "team player."
"I couldn't get the satisfaction he's prepared to be a team player, so I fired him from caucus."
WATCH | Falcon explains why he removed Rustad from the Liberal caucus:
Falcon says Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone will become interim forestry critic.
'An interesting birthday present'
In an interview with CBC, Rustad noted it was his birthday and said news of his ouster was "an interesting birthday present."
Rustad said he believes "real harm" is being done by global climate policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions, and he said he felt it was important for him to speak out about them.
Specifically, he said, efforts at reducing nitrogen-based fertilizers would contribute to global food shortages, and combined with rising fuel prices, he can no longer keep his opinions to himself for the sake of party unity, adding, "I guess that debate isn't welcome in our caucus."
Rustad said he believes climate change is happening and that humans are contributing — a change from his stance in 2021 when he declined to answer that question.
However, he argued the role of carbon emissions in that change is a "theory" and "should be open to debate."
WATCH | Rustad says he wants to debate environmental policies:
A 2021 climate report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that human-produced greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere are already high enough to guarantee climate disruption for decades.
Drawing on more than 14,000 scientific studies, the report gave the most comprehensive and detailed picture ever collected of how climate change is altering the natural world and predicted catastrophic impacts should emission levels not be reduced.
A 2022 report representing the work of 330 scientists over two years drew similar conclusions for both Canada and the world.
Falcon said it was his party's position that this threat must be dealt with, but he could not bring Rustad on board, an assessment Rustad agreed with.
"We came to an irreconcilable difference," Rustad said, adding he has "no ill feelings" toward either Falcon or any of his former Liberal colleagues over the removal.
While he is no longer in the B.C. Liberal caucus, Rustad will continue to represent his riding unless he chooses to step down.
History of inflammatory, misleading social media posts
It's not the first time Rustad's stance on climate change — and his use of social media — has come under fire.
In April 2021, he took issue with the use of the word "pollution" to describe C02 during the NDP provincial government's speech from the throne.
"Carbon dioxide is an essential component of life on this planet. It is not a pollution, and that sort of misinformation out there is just ridiculous. It's ridiculous to do that. It doesn't serve anybody well," said Rustad.
When he was asked directly by CBC whether he believes climate change is real and caused by humans, Rustad declined to answer.
In January 2021, he faced backlash over a Facebook post questioning the decision to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine to Indigenous members of his riding on a priority basis.
"Who makes the decision to continue to vaccinate an 18-year-old in the same community while not vaccinating a 90-year-old with significant health challenges?" he wrote, referring to young people in the Nak'azdli community near Fort St. James, B.C.
And in 2019, he made a post relaying the false claim that government scientists euthanized 24 endangered caribou.
When asked why he made the post without verifying whether it was true, Rustad said: "If there's errors and stuff made, I certainly don't want to be part of what would be considered fake news," adding, "At the same time, when information like that comes forward, it's a piece of information that's worth sharing."
When Falcon became leader of the B.C. Liberals in May 2022, he says he talked to members about working together.
"John's been around for a long time. He knows better," Falcon said. "He knows exactly what he was doing, and he knows exactly what the likely consequences could be."
Rustad was first elected to office in 2005 as a representative for the riding of Prince George-Omineca, which was later dissolved and replaced by the current Nechako Lakes riding.
Under then-premier Christy Clark, he served as minister of Aboriginal relations and reconciliation and, later, of forests, lands and natural resource operations.
Before his removal from caucus, Rustad served as forestry critic for the B.C. Liberals.
Falcon said anyone who has fundamental doubts about the reality of climate change won't be welcome in the B.C. Liberal caucus moving forward.
"It's not going to work."