John Rustad caused a stir in his first question in the B.C. legislature since being acclaimed leader of the Conservative Party of B.C. in March. On Oct. 3, he questioned the government about its Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) policies in schools – a move condemned by the Premier and the Education Minister.
Pointing to recent pro-parental rights protests, Rustad asked if the government would “look at the divisions that this is creating” – the “this” being the SOGI 123 resources used by public schools in the province. “Thousands of British Columbians, many of them from minority communities, have been protesting against SOGI 123,” he said in the legislature. “Parents are concerned about the sexualization of their children in this NDP government’s education system. Will the minister admit that SOGI 123 has been divisive, an assault on parents’ rights, and a distraction on student education?”
NDP Premier David Eby attacked Rustad for raising the issue, responding, “I welcome the member to the House as the leader of his new party, but I’ve got to say, this is not an auspicious start.” Eby said that there were more pressing issues such as cost of living and housing, but “to come into this place, to use the authority of his office, his new party, to find a small group of kids in our province, to leverage all of that, to make them feel less safe at school, less safe in our community, to feed the fires of division in our province and bring culture war to British Columbia, it is not welcome.”
Rustad said it’s the government that is creating division. “This isn’t about attacking a particular group of people,” he said. “This is about having a policy that is inclusive, that is anti-bullying, that is supportive, so everybody feels safe. But right now we have kids that are running home from school and going to the bathroom because they don’t feel safe in school, and that is this government’s fault.”
Eby noted that when Rustad, an MLA for Nechako-Lakes, sat on the backbenches of the previous Liberal government of Christie Clark when it introduced the SOGI 123 program in 2016, he had supported it.
Eby said, “It is outrageous that he would stand here and do this. He sees political advantage in 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.”
In a highly unusual turn of events, the B.C. United MLAs in the legislature applauded the NDP Premier’s reply to Rustad. Then all but three of the official opposition B.C. United caucus — MLAs Ellis Ross, Ben Stewart and Tom Shypitka – joined the government in giving the NDP Premier a standing ovation.
Minister of Education Rachna Singh also responded, saying, “I’m so saddened that the member opposite is talking about this. Here we are trying to create inclusive safe spaces for our children, where every child belongs, and the member is the one who’s trying to create these divisions.”
Later, outside the legislature, Rustad said, “I will not be intimidated.”
Rustad was kicked out of B.C. United Party – formerly the centre-right Liberal Party of B.C. — in 2022 for questioning man-made climate change. He joined the Conservative Party on Feb. 16, 2023, and shortly thereafter was acclaimed its leader.
The B.C. Conservative Party gained official party status recently when MLA Bruce Bannon (Abbotsford South) left B.C. United to join Rustad’s Conservatives. Being an officially recognized party in the Legislative Assembly guarantees the Conservatives the right to participate in the daily Question Period.
Campaign Life Coalition national president Jeff Gunnarson praised Rustad using his platform in the Legislative Assembly to highlight the issue of LGBQT indoctrination in the schools. “Parental rights have a strong voice in the BC legislature, and the governing NDP can’t stand it,” Gunnarson said.
Gunnarson said, “It’s clear that Mr. Rustad is well aware of where parents stand on this issue, and it was heartening to hear him be so upfront about this in the legislature.”
Responding to Eby, Gunnarson said, “Forcing LGBT indoctrination and Gender Ideology onto children while they’re in school is the problem, not the fact that a member of the provincial legislature is standing up for vulnerable children and their concerned parents.”
The same week Rustad asked his question in the legislature, Banman followed up on the issue, reading a section from a resource provided by SOGI 123 for sixth graders in the legislative assembly. The language – which cannot be printed in this newspaper – was so explicit that the Speaker ordered Banman to cease reading from it, saying the text was inappropriate for the legislature.
Gunnarson said, “If a book aimed at children contains such foul and explicit terms that aren’t acceptable for elected officials to discuss in their parliament building, how can material like this be even remotely appropriate for children?”
Gunnarson said, “It’s good to see MLAs taking up the cause of parental rights in the B.C. legislature,” and urged CLC’s British Columbia supporters to contact both Rustad and Banman and “thank them for their honesty and courage.”
CLC director of political operations Jack Fonseca said he was glad to see a mainstream provincial party standing up against the LGBQT indoctrination in schools, noting “One thing is certain: the Conservative Party of B.C. has replaced the B.C. Liberals as the natural home for pro-family and pro-faith citizens.”
Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer wrote that B.C. “social Conservatives have not had a party leader consistently advocating their views in the legislature since Bill Vander Zalm” was premier of the province in the 1990s.