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'We're on the verge of overtaking the NDP': John Rustad says BC Conservatives set to win power in 2024

Climate change is not the top concern in British Columbia even for environment ministers, and “taxing people into poverty is not going to change the weather,” Conservative Party of BC Leader John Rustad has said.

In a wide-ranging discussion with NowMedia, the Nechako Lakes MLA spoke about wildfires, vaccinations, freedom of speech, tax, education and more.

But the topic he tends to be identified with the most – and which got him kicked out of the BC Liberal Party/BC United – remains climate change.

His views are at odds with all the other major parties in the province, but appear to be resonating with voters, as poll after poll after poll shows the BC Conservatives – entirely unrelated to their national namesakes – are ahead of the official opposition.

Premier David Eby has said the party’s rise has been “profoundly disturbing,” while BC United Leader Kevin Falcon has said his rival on the right is “too extreme” and merely benefiting from “voter confusion” amid Pierre Poilievre’s surging popularity.

The leader of the opposition has even hinted he thinks the NDP is providing “some support” to the BC Conservatives as a way of splitting the right-wing vote.

But none of that appears to concern Rustad, who said the BC Conservatives are “a true coalition party” rather than “a traditional conservative party.”

“I mean, we're on the verge now of being able to overtake the NDP and form government in October 2024,” he said, referring to the provincial election set to be held on or before Oct. 19.

“And I think, quite frankly, that is what will happen. That's the track [we’re] on.”

Pressed on climate change, Rustad told interviewers Kent Molgat and Jim Csek “there’s no question” our climate is changing and that “man is having an impact.”

<who> Photo credit: Liaison Strategies </who> The lay of the political land in BC, according to a Liaison Strategies poll released last week.

But he said it’s foolish to introduce the likes of the carbon tax in an attempt to prevent or slow climate change. Instead, he said, governments should “learn how we adapt” to the new reality of increasing numbers of droughts and wildfires.

“Taxing people into poverty is not going to change the weather,” he said. “Even if we were to stop everything we do, [if] all of us were to leave British Columbia, it would be less than a rounding error in world emissions.

“And so why would we be in a position where we are forcibly driving up the cost of everything from food to housing to everything that we do on a day-to-day basis? After all, energy is one of the three key things you need to be able to survive.”

BC is making itself “uncompetitive when it’s going to make zero difference,” he added.

According to the BC government, the province was responsible for 62 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in 2021. According to the EU, worldwide emissions in 2021 were about 38 billion tonnes, meaning BC was responsible for around 0.17 per cent of global emissions, while Canada contributed 1.5 per cent.

“What we actually need to do is learn how we adapt to our changing climate,” he argued. “Because adaptation is the only path forward in order for us to be able to prosper as a province.”

He added: “We're going to have wildfire problems, we're going to have dry conditions. How do we make sure we adapt and change our management structure and how we respond to it to minimize what those impacts are? Similarly with floods, how do we make sure that our infrastructure is sound and in place so that we can adapt to it?”

<who> Photo credit: NowMedia/BC goverment </who> Kevin Falcon (left) and David Eby, neither of them fans of Rustad.

Rustad, who was briefly minister of forests in the summer of 2017, worked for more than 20 years in the forestry sector before going into politics.

He said “how we fight these fires” needs to change, including by using “mass water delivery systems” when putting out fires. We should also seek to “reintroduce fire on the landscape” and bring in a mix of tree species as a way to better manage ecosystems.

Another area in which he said the province was “vulnerable” was food production, with BC failing to produce “the food we need just to survive.”

“We should actually be focused, as part of how we address adapting to [the] climate, to double the amount of food production we have in this province so that we are more self-sustaining and supporting our own population,” he said.

Overall, however, he said “climate issues” are “not an existential threat” and “not a crisis.”

“Matter of fact, I don't even think it's our largest issue that we need to deal with on an environmental side,” he said, adding that the carbon tax must “go.”

“There are much more pressing issues that we should be focused on.”

Among his other statements during the interview were that:

  • Should he form a government, he would tell his MLAs that their riding comes first and the party second

  • Children are being exposed to content that can’t be shown on television “because it would be considered pornography”

  • Kids should be taught how to think, not what to think

  • The NDP’s approach to housing has become “authoritarian” and the province needs “$100 billion annually” to bring house prices down

  • COVID mandates have “become an ideology” and fired workers “should be compensated”

  • Kevin Falcon “is doing so poorly” because he’s “trying very hard to sit in the middle of a picket fence”

  • Freedom of speech is the “core foundation of democracy”

Watch the full interview here.

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