MLA John Rustad seeking B.C. Conservative leadership on 'pro-freedom' platform

WATCH: MLA John Rustad is announcing his campaign for the leadership of the BC Conservative Party. It's a move that could mean bad news for the BC Liberals in the next provincial election. Legislative bureau chief Keith Baldrey reports.

Independent Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad confirmed Thursday he will seek the leadership of the BC Conservative Party.

Rustad, a former BC Liberal who has been an MLA since 2005, joined the provincial Conservatives last month, becoming the party’s only member in the legislature.

The BC Liberals kicked Rustad out of their caucus last summer after he shared an online post disputing that climate change is caused by carbon dioxide, with the hashtag “celebrate CO2.”

In a statement, Rustad said he was running for Conservative leader because the BC NDP government isn’t listening to voters and “the so-called official opposition refuses to oppose.”

The statement goes on to say Rustad was the only B.C. MLA to publicly support the so-called “freedom movement,” adding he is “proudly pro-freedom and pro-trucker,” and “fighting to end mandates and hire back our healthcare heroes.”

Earlier this month, party leader Trevor Bolin announced he wanted to step down to spend more time with family, but would serve as interim leader until a new leader is chosen.

Nominations for the leadership race are open until March 29, with a vote slated for May 28.

If Rustad wins, his high profile could potentially cause vote splitting problems for the BC Liberals, who have traditionally relied on a coalition of federal Conservative and federal Liberal voters for support.

In the last election, the NDP captured four formerly “safe” BC Liberal ridings in which the provincial Conservatives managed to attract noticeable support: Abbotsford-Mission where the Conservatives scored 8 per cent, Chilliwack where they scored 16.5 per cent, Langley East where the Conservatives won 11 per cent, and Vernon-Monashee where they earned 12.4 per cent.

There were four other ridings where the BC Liberal candidate beat their NDP competitor by fewer than 1,000 votes that could also potentially be vulnerable to vote splitting.

The next provincial election is scheduled for Oct. 19, 2024.

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