June 15th, 2024

Elenore Sturko, a gay rights champion, shocks BC United by defecting to Conservatives

By The Canadian Press on June 3, 2024.

Former BC United MLA Elenore Sturko has left the party and joined the BC Conservatives. Sturko, right, elected last month in the Surrey South byelection, is sworn in by clerk Kate Ryan-Lord at the legislature in Victoria, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dirk Meissner

VICTORIA – Nine months ago, Elenore Sturko told BC Conservative Leader John Rustad on social media that he needed to “make an unequivocal apology” for calling homosexuality a “lifestyle” and having “doubled down in his ignorance.”

On Monday, Sturko stood beside Rustad as the leader of her new party, after she defected from BC United, delivering another blow to the official Opposition just months before a provincial election.

Her move comes after Lorne Doerkson, the former BC United caucus chair, also jumped from the official Opposition on Friday, and Sturko now brings the number of Conservative members in the legislature to four.

Sturko said Monday she had changed her mind about Rustad’s stance on sexual orientation and gender identity curriculum in schools, that once saw her give Premier David Eby a standing ovation in the legislature when he told Rustad he should be ashamed of himself for focusing on it.

Sturko said in an interview she now believes the curriculum known as SOGI 123 has eroded parental trust in public education.

“What we’ve actually seen is that SOGI has become divisive,” Sturko said in an interview. “Whether it’s from perception, I think that the name, even calling it SOGI, I’m not sure that we would be able to win back the support of parents and families.

“Whether it’s those real concerns or whether it’s a perception, we need to finally end this divisiveness and make sure that we allow people to put this to bed and get kids back to feeling safe in their classrooms.”

Monday’s move by Sturko – a former RCMP officer who is gay and has been a vocal defender of LGBTQ rights and gender identity education in schools – surprised some, including Adam Wilson, the spokesman for her former party.

“Elenore’s decision to run for a party that is so out of line with her values and priorities in a new riding is shocking, and shows she cares more about her pension than her principles,” he said in a written statement, providing a collection of social media attacks by Sturko on her new party and some of its members’ attacks on her.

Until recently, the BC Conservatives and BC United had been in discussions about avoiding vote splitting between the two right-of-centre parties that could benefit the ruling NDP in the October election.

But the Conservatives rejected a proposal last month from BC United to forge a “non-competition” agreement, with Rustad and BC United Leader Kevin Falcon blaming each other for the talks’ collapse.

Sturko said the decision to switch parties was a difficult one. She currently represents Surrey South but will run in Surrey-Cloverdale, currently held by the NDP.

“I think this is the right decision to make,” Sturko said. “And I have the best interest of British Columbians in mind when I’m doing this.”

Sturko said she had been talking to Falcon since December about working with the Conservatives to defeat the NDP.

“Kevin has heard the same thing, that over and over voters are asking for the people on the right to get together “¦ Kevin failed to be able to make that happen with the two parties,” she said.

She said she would “never abandon” LGBTQ causes but there was “room for everybody” in a “big-tent” Conservative Party of BC.

Rustad said in a statement that Sturko would be a terrific addition to the Conservative team, and a practical example of the grassroots coalition he said was growing across the province.

“Elenore’s decision to join us reinforces that we are building a big tent, with room for everyone who wants to defeat the NDP and elect a common sense government that respects taxpayers hard earned wages,” Rustad said.

He said anyone interested in working with his party should contact him.

Sturko said Monday the goal is to defeat the NDP and she can “only ignore polls for so long” in acknowledging the Conservatives as “the largest grassroots movement” seen in British Columbia.

“If you are LGBT or not LGBT “¦ If you are on board with changing direction from the NDP and changing what we’re doing so that we can repair these things that are impacting all British Columbians right now, every day, then please join us,” she said.

“There’s things that I won’t agree with every single person in my new party, and I certainly didn’t agree with every single person in the party I’m leaving.”

University of the Fraser Valley associate professor of political science Hamish Telford said Sturko joining the Conservatives was especially damaging to BC United because she was “personally recruited” by Falcon “to be a star candidate.”

Telford said the move is surprising because Sturko’s values “don’t seem fully aligned” with the BC Conservatives. He was watching if more BC United MLAs make the switch.

“I would suggest today that this was sort of the wheels coming off the BC United bus,” he said. “It’s in real trouble now.”

The standings in the 87-seat B.C. legislature are now 55 NDP, 23 BC United, three B.C. Greens, four B.C. Conservatives and two Independents.

The number of seats will increase to 93 for the next election and Rustad has said he plans to run a full slate of candidates.

Recent polling has put BC United in a distant third place behind the NDP and the Conservatives.

– By Chuck Chiang in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2024.

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