Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Legislature return brings testy exchange for Premier and Conservative leader

The BC Legislature is back in session for the Fall

Provincial politicians returned to the British Columbia Legislature on Tuesday, the governing NDP now facing three official opposition parties in the Chamber.  

That change to the seating plan came after a floor crossing last month by former BC United MLA Bruce Banman, propelled the Conservative Party into the ranks of the officially recognized participants and with it provincial funding for their efforts in Victoria.

It also means additional speaking opportunities for Conservative Leader John Rustad, who in his debut speech created a fair bit of controversy with his focus on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and how it is addressed in  the British Columbia Eduction system. 

Rustad's commentary was one which adopted much of the language of the recent Parental rights narratives in opposition to what is known as SOGI and in his language he framed his views in that prism.

"Thousands of British Columbians, many of them from minority communities, have been protesting against SOGI 123, which was originally introduced by the B.C. United Liberals. 

Parents are concerned about the sexualization of their children in this NDP government's education system. 

Will the minister admit that SOGI 123 has been divisive, an assault on parents' rights and a distraction on student education?" 

The commentary proved to be a lightning rod for Premier David Eby, who correctly observed how the comments were politically charged. 

The Conservative leader seemingly using children, families and teachers for his political wedge issue.

"I welcome the member to the House as the leader of his new party, but I have got to say, this is not an auspicious start. 

You know, when you talk about the issues of the day for British Columbians — cost of living, housing, we heard from the BCUP, health care, addiction, mental health — to come into this place, to use the authority of his office, his new party, to find a small group of kids in our province, to leverage all of that, to make them feel less safe at school, less safe in our community, to feed the fires of division in our province and bring culture war to British Columbia. It is not welcome. 

And when he sat on this side of the House, he supported those same policies. It is outrageous that he would stand here and do this. He sees political advantage in picking on kids and families and teachers and schools who are just trying to do their best for kids who are at risk of suicide. 

Shame on him. Choose another question."

The supplemental question by the Conservative Leader explored further his concerns and what he sees is the genesis of the current debate.

"It is very clear that we're talking about a uni-party in this House, and that's fine in terms of it. 

But to the Premier, what I find most offensive is that the division is being created by what this government is implementing. There are thousands of people taking to the streets, there are thousands of people protesting at school board offices. 

There are kids that are being part of this because they are disturbed at what's happening in their schools. This isn't about attacking a particular group of people. This is about having a policy that is inclusive, that is anti-bullying, that is supportive, so everybody feels safe. 

But right now we have kids that are running home from school and going to the bathroom because they don't feel safe in school, and that is this government's fault in terms of it."

There are many clips of the exchange between Eby and Rustad, but for the full context, the Legislature Question Period Video makes for the best reference material. 

Mr. Rustad makes for his commentary at the 11:16 AM mark, the Premier and others follow the opening remarks.

There is no argument that parents obviously should be involved in how their children are educated, though it often seems that those with the largest concerns and rhetoric to the issue, are those who likely could not name the members of their local school board, or when it meets.

The over riding element of the SOGI debate (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) should focus on the safety for the students in the schools, a sanctuary that should not be part of any political debate on the larger issues of the curriculum.

That discussion is something for parents and those interested in education to explore at the School Board meetings, if truly inclined towards an interest in education at the local level.

The Conservative leader's Chamber commentary followed a social media message that seemed to tie the SOGI issues to Truth and Reconciliation, a theme that clearly missed the focus of the weekend in a bid to politicize it.

That social media message followed up on a statement from earlier this September from the party towards the issue of parent's choice.

How the Ministry of Education and Provincial government have approached the topic of SOFI and hemes of inclusion is available for review here

The Conservatives enter the Legislature on a political roll, beyond the crossing of the floor of MLA Banman, they have found strong success in recent polling; that as the message from BC United Leader Kevin Fallon is not finding as welcome a response as he likely had anticipated with the launch of the new name for the former BC Liberals.

The battle for the centre/right vote is about to be taken right to the constituency for the Conservative leader, on Tuesday, the BC United Leader announced that Houston Mayor Shane Brienen would be contesting Nechako Lakes for the party.

For Rustad and his newest member from Abbotsford, as well as those that may be considering a jump to his side, pivoting to the hard right will surely stake out that side of political turf.  

But it may also alarm those in the centre  who while leery of the Falcon leadership of the moment, won't feel comfortable with the current volume of the narratives coming from the Conservatives.

The schism to the right/centre of the political spectrum is music to dance to for the provincial NDP, they continue to dominate in the polling results as the vote splinters off for the other two parties ... don't expect the Eby team to try and help anyone out with their messaging, or to soothe the impact of their faux pas moments as the Legislature sessions move through the fall an winter.

If Day one of the 26 days of the fall session are an indication, the next two months could be a feisty thing in the Chamber.

You can follow our notes on the Fall Session and other themes of the Legislature from our archive pages here.


  1. It's a familiar narrative from the BC Con leader. The NDP and in this case the United party are supposedly causing "division" because they don't favour the social conservative agenda. But he's blameless in this regard, perhaps even a victim of sorts.
    Also interesting that he says that he will always stand with parents. Kids have rights too, apart from their parents.
    He has been asked by residential school survivors to apologize for using Orange Shirt Day and residential schools as a prop for his political ambitions. The word shameless comes to mind.

  2. Over the long run BC United will be better off without the climate change deniers and tub thumpers.