VICTORIA — The political landscape in British Columbia shifted slightly Wednesday with the defection of an Opposition BC United caucus member to the provincial Conservatives, who will now have two members in the legislature.
Abbotsford South MLA Bruce Banman announced he is crossing the floor to join his friend B.C. Conservative Leader John Rustad, who was turfed from the BC United caucus last year.
Banman's move to the Conservatives gives the party added strength in the legislature as two elected members constitute an official political party.
The Office of the Clerk said in a statement that it appears to be the first time four parties will be represented in B.C.'s legislature with "official status," but it is not the only time four parties have had representatives in the legislature.
The Clerk's statement also said there are currently no specific funding arrangements for a caucus beyond a third party, meaning the two Conservatives will receive money as two private members, but a legislative committee can review the situation.
The four parties at the legislature will now be the New Democrats, who hold a majority, the Opposition BC United, the Green Party of B.C. and the Conservative Party of B.C.
Rustad welcomed Banman to the Conservative caucus, calling the move historic and a reflection of changing political momentum in B.C. as the fall 2024 election approaches.
"You know people in this province are looking for something different," he said in an interview. "They're looking for what we're offering. For Bruce coming over and joining us, obviously it's a very exciting day for us."
Rustad has been sitting in the legislature as an Independent.
Banman, elected in 2020 and a former Abbotsford mayor, wanted to be in a party where he could speak freely on behalf of his constituents, said Rustad.
"With Bruce coming over, I think, he wants to be able to stand up and fight for his constituents," Rustad said. "He wants to be able to make sure he's free to be able to vote his conscience and he found he wasn't able to do that under the BC United Party."
BC United Leader Kevin Falcon said in a statement that Banman's decision to switch parties was not entirely unexpected, but it betrays those constituents who elected him to serve as part of the BC United team.
BC United is the only party that can defeat the NDP government and act on the significant challenges facing B.C. residents, he said.
"Unfortunately, Bruce Banman has chosen a different path," said Falcon.
Falcon ejected Rustad from the BC United caucus in August 2022 for posting views on social media that questioned the role of carbon dioxide in climate change.
Banman, who was the BC United critic for emergency management and climate readiness, said in a statement that joining the Conservatives will ensure he is able to bring the concerns of his constituents to the legislature.
"I know first-hand that the Conservative Party of British Columbia is the only party that stands for what's right in the legislature, rather than what's politically convenient or politically correct," he said in a statement. "As a Conservative MLA, I'm looking forward to having the opportunity to speak honestly and openly on behalf of my constituents."
Banman said he and Rustad will be the voice in B.C.'s legislature for everyday, hardworking people.
"I believe B.C. needs a leader who is a straight up, decent human being, and a party that's willing to put politics aside to stand for what's right," he said.
Banman said he is joining a political party that does not support the federal Liberal government's carbon tax, refuses to condone B.C. education policies surrounding student identity issues and rejects safe supply of hard drugs.
"We are building a new coalition in this province, and it's based on just working for everyday people," said Rustad. "Half the people in this province are struggling to put food on the table. They don't care about the ideologies and the political rhetoric."
The Conservatives recently placed second ahead of the Greens and BC United in the Malahat-Juan de Fuca byelection on Vancouver Island that was won by the NDP.
New Democrat Ravi Parmer, who was elected in Malahat-Juan de Fuca, said Banman is joining a party that is out of step with the values of most people in B.C., those who trust the science behind climate change and vaccines.
He said in a statement the B.C. Conservatives are a party born of "anti-science ideas."
"At a time when our province has seen back-to-back-to-back extreme weather events, the B.C. Conservatives are the only party opposed to essential emission reduction measures such as the carbon tax."
The party standings in the legislature are now 57 New Democrats, 26 BC United MLAs, two BC Greens and two Conservatives.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 13, 2023.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press