House Leader Ravi Kahlon said B.C.’s governing New Democrats will be ready to answer questions from the opposition, including the Conservative Party of B.C., when the legislature resumes.
“We do believe it’s fair that all parties have an opportunity to ask a question,” he said Friday at a housing announcement in Victoria. “I understand from the speaker that the agreement will be that all three (opposition) parties will ask questions every single day and we’re are prepared for that.”
The provincial legislature resumes Oct. 3 with four officially recognized parties after Abbotsford-South MLA Bruce Banman left the BC United Caucus in September to join the Conservatives under the leadership of Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad. Banman’s decision to defect has given the Conservatives the same number of MLAs as the BC Greens — two — and qualified them for official status.
BC United Leader Kevin Falcon kicked Rustad out of caucus in August 2022 after Rustad questioned the party’s policy on climate change. Rustad sat as an independent for several months before joining the Conservatives and eventually winning that party’s leadership.
Kahlon alluded to this history when asked how the Conservatives might change the discourse in the legislature.
“Here’s party that was founded on the belief that climate change doesn’t exist,” Kahlon said. “They have got a position to attack SOGI 123 (sexual orientation and gender identity, an educational resource program), which will make it less safe for kids in school. They have brought forward a vision of stopping the ability for people to be safe when it comes to drug use, so they will not be getting an easy pass from anyone in the legislature.”
The committee overseeing legislature operations formally recognized the two smaller parties by recognizing Rustad’s status as party leader and awarding the office the same monies as the office of Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau: a pro-rated $214,000. The full amount would have been just under $400,000. Rustad as Party Leader and Banman as House Leader will receive bumps to their individual salaries as MLAs.
“Obviously, I was pleased that we will be treated with the same approach that the Green Party is treated,” Rustad said. “It allows us to be able to add some additional staff, to make sure that we are as prepared as we can for the legislature this fall.” The money allows the party to do more research in bringing forward issues, he added.
“All of that is very helpful,” Rustad said. “But having said that, because I think we are so close to an election, the majority of our time is going to be spent sort outside the legislature.
“Obviously, we are elected to do what we can and we are going to be in the legislature to hold this government to account, but we are going to continue to do what we have been doing, which is to build the grassroots movement that is the Conservative Party of B.C.”
The next election is scheduled for Oct. 19, 2024 and Premier David Eby has repeatedly said that he won’t call an early election. But Rustad does not buy it and adding that his party is busy recruiting candidates for all 93 ridings.
Rustad also challenged comments that his party is introducing American-style culture wars. “They (the NDP) introduced these divisions,” he said in calling for an end to SOGI.
“We need to make sure that we have a a zero-bullying, zero-racism policy in schools, everybody needs to be safe and accepted in our schools and schools should teach that,” he said.
“But what schools are doing with SOGI, it is becoming far too focused on social issues…that is not serving children well and certainly creating divides within communities and families.”
Recent polls, protests and public statements show broad support for SOGI, but the issue has emerged as a flash point in parts of the province.