Bruce Banman, the MLA for Abbotsford South, has defected from the BC United Party and announced he will join the Conservative Party under John Rustad. As a result, the B.C. Conservatives now have official party status with the same number of seats as the BC Greens.
Kevin Falcon, the leader of the B.C. United Party, said the move was not a complete surprise but stated the defection betrays constituents who elected Mr. Banman to be part of the B.C. United caucus. Mr. Falcon maintains his party is the only one that can defeat the current NDP government.
In a statement, Mr. Falcon said there were “ongoing internal management challenges” within his party that may have contributed to Mr. Banman crossing the floor to a different team, as well as brand confusion caused by the party’s name change.
Mr. Banman was elected in 2020 and served as emergency management and climate readiness critic for B.C. United. Before that, he was Abbotsford’s mayor.
The shift in MLAs now leaves the legislature with 57 New Democrats, 26 B.C. United MLAs, two BC Green Party MLAs, and the two Conservatives, Mr. Banman and Mr. Rustand.
Once a party gains official party status in the legislature, additional funding becomes available and party members can join committees and have a greater voice in the legislature to question the governing party. Also, a pay increase usually ensues. The leader of the third party in the legislature is paid an additional $28,761 on top of the $115,045 MLA base salary.
The Office of the Speaker and the Legislative Assembly Management Committee will be left to determine if the Conservatives will receive the same resources as the Greens, both having an equal number of seats in the legislature.
Mr. Rustad took leadership of the Conservatives in March after being ejected from the B.C. United caucus, formerly known as the B.C. Liberals, in August 2022 due to his questioning of the climate change narrative. He promptly declared himself a proponent of the populist agenda and said he was “proudly pro-freedom and pro-trucker.” Mr. Rustad has also advocated for the reinstatement of unvaccinated health care workers who were terminated following COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Mr. Banman meanwhile, has taken a stand on the issues of homelessness and transportation and said he opposes the “punishing carbon tax” and the “myth of safe [drug] supply.”
“We don’t support Trudeau-backed policies like the punishing carbon tax that hurts everyday people. We refuse to condone the ideological NDP education agenda that teaches students what to think instead of how to think and we will never support the myth of safe supply that kills British Columbians and poisons our communities with hard drugs,” said Mr. Banman in a statement on Sept. 13.
As the sole member of the party, Mr. Rustad was sitting in the legislature as an independent MLA until Mr. Banman joined the party. During a byelection in Langford-Juan de Fuca in June, the Conservatives finished second with 20 percent of the vote trailing the NDP candidate—considered a major gain as the party edged out the B.C. United candidate.
According to Mr. Rustand, he and Mr. Banman have been meeting and discussing issues over the past month and Mr. Banman decided he was a better fit on the Conservative team.
“When you look at the B.C. NDP, B.C. United, the Greens, three lefts don’t make a right,” said Mr. Rustad.
The Canadian Press contributed to this report.