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B.C. United, B.C. Conservative merger ‘pretty unlikely’: political scientist

But Stewart Prest also sees winds ‘blowing’ against left-of-centre governments
UBC political scientist Stewart Prest says it is unlikely for B.C. United led by Kevin Falcon and the provincial Conservatives led by John Rustad to arrange a formal merger between now and the election in October, but does not rule some unspecified informal cooperation. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)

A B.C. political scientist says it is “pretty unlikely” the Conservative Party of B.C. and B.C. United will merge at this stage, but does not rule out some form of co-operation.

“It’s going to be hard for any kind of formal merger to take place,” Stewart Prest, who teaches at the University of British Columbia, said. “But that said, they may find ways to co-operate informally in some ways that make it a little easier for them both to compete against the NDP, but it is difficult to say exactly what that might look like.”

One reason for Prest’s skepticism is the advanced stage of both party’s election preparations. The Conservatives have nominated 61 of a possible 93 candidates, while B.C. United has nominated 53. But Prest also points to ideological issues that may be difficult to bridge.

“Up until this point, they have been trying to occupy quite distinct spaces on the politicial spectrum,” he said. “The (provincial Conservatives) have really felt quite comfortable being the voice of what are sometimes referred to the ‘Skeptics of Modernity.’ This is a place for people, who are skeptical about anything from vaccines to concerns about SOGI curriculum to concerns about the mainstream understandings of climate change and the need for action on climate change.”

B.C. United, meanwhile, sees itself in the “big-tent, right-of-centre” tradition of the B.C. Liberals, Prest added. That tradition is generally accepting of diversity, the need for action on climate change and strong acceptance of a woman’s right to choose, he said.

“They (B.C. United and the provincial Conservatives) can agree that they want to oppose the B.C. NDP from the right, but they may not agree on how to do that on particular issues.”

Yet both parties are speaking with each other — albeit through emissaries behind the scenes — while attacking each other publicly on hot-button issues like abortion.

Case in the point was the reaction of B.C. United’s Karin Kirkpatrick to comments by B.C. Conservative Courtenay-Comox candidate Damon Scrase.

In a social media post dating back to May 2, 2022 and first unearthed by radio host Jas Johal, Scrase said the “most feverishly defended ‘right’ in this country is the right to kill babies. You will never see a Canadian get more animated by any other issue. It’s a bizarre sclerotic death worshipping society.”

Kirpatrick said in her tweet that she is “appalled” by Scrase’s comments.

“Referring to abortion as a ‘death cult’ and denying women the right to choose is beyond reprehensible,” she said. “Extremist (and) toxic views that directly threaten women’s rights (and) bodily autonomy cannot be condoned.”

Rustad said people are allowed to have their own opinion, when asked about Scrase’s comments, adding his party won’t open the abortion debate in B.C.

Prest said holding talks with provincial Conservatives while calling them out on abortion points to a “disconnect” and “speaks to a certain amount of desperation on part of B.C. United.”

Not long ago, B.C. United saw itself as the “natural home of right-of-centre view points” with the provincial Conservatives viewed as “marginal,” Prest said. Now, B.C. United is polling in a “distant third” and these talks are a way for Falcon to remain relevant, he added.

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One measure of the Conservatives’ pull is the way B.C. United has echoed issues traditionally associated with the B.C. Conservatives. That was the case Monday, when Falcon accused the B.C. NDP of “enforcing a vaccine mandate that prevents thousands of terminated health care workers from returning to work.”

Falcon later said the mandate ignores science and denies the health-care system needed workers.

Prest sees it as evidence of B.C. United being “out-flanked” on cultural-political issues.

“There is a belated attempt here by…B.C. United to shore up those positions, but it may be honestly too late at this point.”

Provincial New Democrats have frequently accused B.C. United of aping provincial Conservatives.

“Clearly, he (Falcon) woke up and saw the poll numbers and saw that the B.C. Conservatives are eating his lunch,” Delta North NDP MLA Ravi Kahlon said Tuesday in criticizing B.C. United’s position on climate change. “That’s a shame, because (former B.C. Premier) Gordon Campbell was a leader when it came to addressing climate change and he’s running that legacy into the ground.”

But Prest also sees the B.C. NDP on the defensive.

”The winds are blowing against left-of-centre governments and progressive movements, both federally and provincially,” he said.

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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