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Political shift underway in B.C., says confident Conservative Leader John Rustad

VICTORIA — Premier David Eby and Opposition BC United Leader Kevin Falcon are looking over their shoulders at the political gains being made by the new kid on the block, says British Columbia Conservative Leader John Rustad.

His upstart two-member Conservative caucus has stirred debate and changed dialogue at the legislature, and the party appears to be gaining momentum with voters as the scheduled fall election approaches, Rustad said Wednesday at a news conference.

Some recent polls suggest the Conservatives, who received less than two per cent of the vote in the 2020 election and did not win a seat, would finish second if an election were held now.

Rustad, who became Conservative leader last March after being dumped from the BC United caucus in August 2022, said he's heard from members of the business community who are lobbying for a Conservative-BC United merger to counter the NDP, and he's not ruling out some form of talks.

"We're prepared to actually have discussions," he said. "I'm not sure what that could look like. I wouldn't certainly say that there is anything imminent about to happen, but a week can be a long time in politics."

Rustad said the Conservatives have caused Eby to express "anxiety" about the party and forced Falcon to change policy, especially with regards to the province's carbon tax.

"As the Conservative Party, I think we've changed the dialogue," he said. "You've seen a massive shift in terms of where the United policy is and what they're doing, quite a flip-flop actually."

BC United, who introduced B.C.'s carbon tax in 2008 when the party was named the B.C. Liberals, now plans to dump the tax completely if a federal Conservative government is elected in Ottawa, he said.

Rustad was ejected from the BC United caucus for posting on social media comments from an outspoken climate change denier. He said recently he believes climate change is real but that carbon taxes can't "change the weather."

He said the Conservatives are pulling together a broad coalition of voters, and the party will serve as an alternative to both the New Democrats and BC United.

The other Conservative member, Bruce Banman, was also elected as a BC United candidate before switching parties.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2024.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press