The BC Conservatives’ Meteoric Rise

The BC Conservatives’ Meteoric Rise
B.C. Conservative Party Leader John Rustad speaks in Victoria on Dec. 6, 2023. (The Canadian Press/Chad Hipolito)
Omid Ghoreishi

B.C. Conservative Leader John Rustad says he had a sense of his party’s growing popularity in early 2023, but the extent of it really hit home after a provincial byelection last summer.

“It started to really look like a big deal,” Mr. Rustad told The Epoch Times.

Even though the NDP candidate in the June 2023 Langford–Juan de Fuca byelection was the ultimate victor with 53 percent of the vote, the Tory candidate finished second with 20 percent. This was ahead of the Green candidate with 18 percent and the candidate of the Official Opposition, BC United, with 9 percent.

The seat had previously been held by former NDP Premier John Horgan since 2005, and getting the second-highest number of votes was noteworthy for a party that had been on the fringes of B.C. politics until shortly before the byelection.

The Conservative Party of British Columbia, which until Mr. Rustad joined in February 2023 didn’t have a single MLA in the B.C. legislature, is currently polling far ahead of the Official Opposition BC United, formerly the B.C. Liberals. The latter was the governing party in the province most recently from 2001 to 2017.

Mr. Rustad says he can’t think of any other examples in recent history where a political party was able to rise in popularity in such short order.

“I don’t think it’s ever happened to see this kind of movement in just over a year,” he said. “We’ve tapped into, really, a grassroots movement that is around the province.”

Party Revival

Mr. Rustad, a former cabinet minister with the B.C. Liberals, was elected leader of the B.C. Conservatives in March 2023.

Although established at the turn of the 20th century, the Conservatives haven’t been a serious contender in the province in decades

The party received a boost when high-profile commentator Aaron Gunn was blocked by the B.C. Liberals from running for the leadership in 2021 due to his views, such as questioning if Canada is guilty of genocide, and decided to revive the Conservative Party instead.

Mr. Gunn later left the B.C. Conservatives to run for the federal Conservatives, paving the way for Mr. Rustad’s leadership.

Just before joining the Conservatives, Mr. Rustad had been sitting as an Independent after being kicked out of the B.C. Liberal party in August 2022. He had been removed for sharing a social media post that challenged the idea that carbon dioxide is the “control knob of global temperature” when it comes to climate change.

The Conservatives achieved official party status in the legislature when BC United MLA Bruce Banman joined them in September 2023, bringing the total number of the party’s MLAs to two.

Since then, two more BC United MLAs have defected to join the party: Lorne Doerkson, formerly BC United caucus chair, who joined the Conservatives on May 31, and Elenore Sturko, who joined on June 3. On June 19, BC United candidate Chris Moore announced that he’s joining the B.C. Conservatives as well.

Small Team

Mr. Rustad acknowledges that the rapid growth has come with its own logistical challenges.

“Even though the Conservative Party is the oldest party in B.C. history, first founded in 1903, governed for many years, it hasn’t been on the scene for many years,” he said.

“We’ve been building this up with a very small team for this period of time that we’re expanding. But certainly we had some growing pains trying to make sure that we can have the resources within the party to match the growth that we have.”

Besides the four existing MLAs, the party is running a full slate of candidates, among them small business owners, farmers, lawyers, former RCMP and Canadian Armed Forces officers, local-level politicians, and indigenous leaders.


Heather Maahs, a school trustee in Chilliwack who is now running for the Conservatives in the Chilliwack North riding, attributes the rise in her party’s popularity to “common sense” prevailing.
Heather Maahs, a school trustee in Chilliwack, and a B.C. Conservative candidate. (Jeff Sandes/The Epoch Times)
Heather Maahs, a school trustee in Chilliwack, and a B.C. Conservative candidate. (Jeff Sandes/The Epoch Times)

“People are realizing that they have to pay attention and step up if they don’t want to lose their freedoms and their livelihoods and their jobs,” Mrs. Maahs said in an interview.

“I believe that things have gone so far, that the only way to make changes now, and ensure kids get the skills that they need, is to change things legislatively.”

Macklin McCall, a former RCMP officer who is running for the Conservatives in the riding of West Kelowna–Peachland, says he thinks people find their party “very relatable.”

“I was an RCMP officer for 18 years prior to running. As an officer, I had a front-row seat to the hardships our people have been facing, and I saw that things seemed to be getting worse,” Mr. McCall told The Epoch Times.

“I chose the Conservative Party of B.C. because I was very unhappy with what the other three parties in B.C. stood for and represented. They did not represent my values in Victoria and failed or outright refused to do what I believed was right for B.C.”

For its part, the B.C. NDP has dismissed the provincial Conservatives as “extremist” and says New Democrats represent the interests of the common British Columbians.

In May, as it emerged that some in the business community had attempted to broker a merger between the Conservatives and BC United that ultimately failed, NDP Leader and Premier David Eby said “powerful interests” are trying to “arrange a marriage of convenience.”

“Well, I’ve got a message for these lobbyists and John Rustad and [BC United Leader] Kevin Falcon: The next election will be decided at the kitchen table, not the boardroom table,” Mr. Eby said.

Mr. Falcon has presented his BC United party as the centrist option in this fall’s provincial election, saying it is the moderate choice.

“British Columbians are mainstream and not extreme,” he said earlier this month.

“I really believe very confidently that by the time the public pays attention, we’re going to surprise every­one just like we did in 2013,” he said, referring to the B.C. Liberals’ majority government win that year. BC United changed its name from the B.C. Liberals in April 2023.

The B.C. Greens are touting their local representation, saying their candidates will ensure “a prosperous and sustainable future” for the province.
“Together, we are setting the stage for a future where our communities thrive on the principles of equity, sustainability, and prosperity,” leader Sonia Furstenau said in May.

Parental Concerns

Brent Chapman, the longest-serving member of the B.C. Conservatives among the party’s candidates, says the surge in the party’s popularity can be attributed to being “the right party at the right time.”

“We’re talking about the Overton Window. I think that something shifted, what was unthinkable, now people see as thinkable,” said Mr. Chapman, an actor who is married to federal Tory MP and Harper government cabinet minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay.

In an interview, Mr. Chapman, who has been with the B.C. Conservatives for 13 years, said he thinks the party gained a lot of momentum as more people in the province started vocally opposing SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) resources in schools, particularly starting in mid-2023.

There have been increasing protests against SOGI resources in schools by parental groups since last year, with rallies and parades held at times on a weekly basis.

“I think when the anti-SOGI movement really started to take hold, that’s when parents really wanted to have another option,” Mr. Chapman said.

“It’s beyond what anyone could ever imagine, that people truly feared sending their children to school. They were truly uncomfortable with what was going on, and they felt that they had no say in it.”

In his first question in the legislature as the leader of the party in October 2023, Mr. Rustad raised the issue of SOGI in schools, calling it “divisive” and an “assault on parents’ rights.”

“Parents are concerned about the sexualization of their children,” Mr. Rustad said.

In response, Mr. Eby said Mr. Rustad was “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,” Mr. Eby said. His rebuke was applauded by his own NDP caucus, as well as by many BC United MLAs.

In addition to parental rights issues, Mr. Chapman says the party’s other traditional conservative values have also drawn support, including having limited government, lower taxes, and policies tackling the drug crisis. He believes the pro-freedom movements that have arisen in recent years have also added to the Conservatives’ support base.


Mr. Chapman, who is running for the Conservatives in the Surrey South riding, says it’s exciting to be part of a party that is experiencing such growth, but at the same time, he says it can be “daunting.”

“You don’t want to lose those conservative values. You don’t want to risk it, all of a sudden, becoming a case of people getting close to the prize and softening the approach a bit,” he said.

A vehicle adorned with Canadian flags and displaying a sign reading "Most faiths agree stop SOGI 123," was seen participating in a car rally held in Abbotsford, B.C., on June 1, 2024. The event opposes gender ideology curriculum in schools. (The Epoch Times)
A vehicle adorned with Canadian flags and displaying a sign reading "Most faiths agree stop SOGI 123," was seen participating in a car rally held in Abbotsford, B.C., on June 1, 2024. The event opposes gender ideology curriculum in schools. (The Epoch Times)

The party has already seen its share of internal dissent and conflict, with even one riding association getting mired in a legal challenge over a nomination battle.

Earlier this year, the party dropped Stephen Malthouse, a physician whose licence has been suspended for signing mask and vaccine exemptions during the pandemic—an ironic move for a party that gained its revival after politicians were booted from other parties due to their controversial stances.

Some original organizers are also discontent about BC United MLAs joining the Conservatives, expressing concerns that the direction of the party may be changed.

Mr. Chapman says it’s great to have the support of faith-based voters, and notes that in many cases, being very “principled voters,” they may stop their support “if you push them the wrong way.”

But he says he remains reassured as Mr. Rustad has maintained the party’s conservative stances.

“I feel that our leader, John Rustad, has articulated really strong conservative values when he speaks publicly, and I think a lot of those who have any kind of doubts are always put to rest by the strong conservative stances that he takes,” Mr. Chapman said.

For his part, Mr. Rustad says the party is going to stay true to its principles.

“As we grow, and as we have some challenges and issues, … we always want to make sure that we stay true to who we are,” he says.

“We never change our principles—the things that we stand for, the things that we’re fighting for. For example, getting rid of the mandates, hiring back health-care workers, standing for freedoms and individual choice and rights, standing for parental rights. These are the basic values that I think people share across the spectrum,” he said.

Mr. Rustad says any of his candidates who become MLAs will be asked to pledge that their number one priority will be representing their constituents.

He says when it comes to votes of confidence, it is expected that the caucus will vote with the party, but on many policy issues, he welcomes diverse viewpoints.

“Having free votes is not a bad thing, and it does actually show strength for the party to be able to have those diversity of opinions,” he says.

Upcoming Election

While the Conservatives have surpassed the official opposition BC United in polling, most surveys put them behind the governing NDP.
Polling aggregator 338Canada as of June 1 showed the NDP with 41 percent of the popular vote, followed by the Conservatives with 33 percent, BC United with 14 percent, and BC Greens with 10 percent.
The occasional poll will place the Conservatives ahead of the NDP. This was the case in an April poll by Mainstreet Research, which indicated that the Tories had 39 percent of the popular vote, compared with the NDP at 36 percent. A Navigator poll released on June 19, however, put the NDP support at 47 percent and the Tories at 32 percent.
The province’s election is scheduled for Oct. 19.