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BC Conservative leader talks health care, crime, climate and more in Vernon

John Rustad put forward his party’s goals and his personal views at a meet-and-greet Friday
Conservative Party of BC leader John Rustad spoke at a meet-and-greet in Vernon Friday, July 7, 2023. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

Conservative Party of BC leader John Rustad paid a visit to Vernon Friday evening, where he emphasized his party’s values in an effort to earn support ahead of next year’s general election.

Speaking at the Elks Lodge in front of a crowd of close to 50 people on July 7, Rustad shared his thoughts on crime, education, economics, taxes, health care and climate change. As he explained, it was his views on the latter issue that got him kicked out of caucus by BC United leader Kevin Falcon in August 2022.

Rustad, the MLA for Nechako Lakes since 2005, distanced himself from “all of the other political parties” in B.C. with his stance on climate change, specifically the carbon tax, which he said will only serve to increase poverty in the province.

“Since 2008, we’ve had this carbon tax in place and you know what it’s done for British Columbia? Nothing. The per capita use of fossil fuels has not changed. It has increased at the same rate as the rest of Canada.”

Rustad is not only in favour of scrapping the carbon tax; his party champions the idea of making referendums mandatory for the government to impose any new tax or tax increase.

“I think quite frankly that people are taxed enough. I think quite frankly we need to bring down the tax burden.”

Discussing the health care system, Rustad touched upon recent news that one of Vernon’s two walk-in clinics will be shutting down permanently at the end of September due to a lack of doctors. Rustad framed the story as a symptom of a wider problem.

“In 2021, it was between six and seven people in British Columbia that died every day waiting for diagnostic testing or surgeries,” he said. “That’s not even talked about. That is our healthcare system today, that’s become what is normal and acceptable.”

READ MORE: BC Conservative leader comes to Okanagan looking for election foothold

Rustad said the first thing that should be done is to hire back health care workers that left their positions during COVID-19 mandates.

He said the doctor shortage is a problem that originated in the 1990s and things need to be done differently to solve it. He said to fix the health care system, B.C. needs to look at European models that are a blend of public and private health care.

On the issue of addiction and homelessness, Rustad didn’t outright say he is against decriminalization, but did express concern about the influence that policy may have on the culture around hard drugs.

“I don’t think we should be running around arresting people because they have a little bit of drugs, but we should not be sending a message to our kids and to the population that drugs are safe.”

On crime, Rustad lamented what he called a lax legal system in B.C., arguing against what he described as the catch-and-release cycle of prolific violent offenders. He said he would aim to strengthen the Mental Health Act “so that these individuals that are at risk of harming themselves and others can receive the treatment that they need and be removed from society so that other people are not put at risk.”

Rustad touched upon B.C.’s education system, saying schools need to focus on academics and “leave the social issues for families,” which drew a round of applause from the crowd.

Finishing up on the topic of economics, Rustad emphasized that “profit isn’t a bad word.” He said the B.C. government needs to get rid of the “road blocks” it has put in the way of development.

“It takes 168 days longer to get something as simple as a warehouse built as it does south of the border,” he said.

Rustad is touring the province and will be in Kelowna on Sunday at the Best Western Plus on Highway 97 from 7-9 p.m.

READ MORE: New BC Conservative leader John Rustad says nobody will ‘outwork’ him

Brendan Shykora
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Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started at the Morning Star as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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