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Rob Shaw: MLA Elenore Sturko defects to Conservatives in stunning blow to BC United

Move marks potential turning point in B.C. politics ahead of fall election
Surrey South MLA Elenore Sturko crossed the floor from BC United to the BC Conservatives on Monday, June 3. | Darren Stone, Times Colonist

BC United MLA Elenore Sturko says she’s lost faith in her party’s ability to win the next election and is crossing the floor to join the upstart BC Conservatives — a stunning defection that serves as a major blow to United Leader Kevin Falcon and his party.

Sturko said she decided to make the move after non-competition talks between the two parties collapsed in late May, following an offer from BC United that Sturko said was “not realistic.”

“I was very disappointed with the way that last discussion had taken place,” she said in an interview.

The Conservatives are now the party to rally behind as the new centre-right choice to defeat the BC NDP, she said.

“BC Conservative is that next evolution of the coalition,” said Sturko.

“It’s clear it has momentum. What BC United is doing under Kevin Falcon right now isn’t building that momentum, it isn’t resonating. If we want to be successful, we need to be not standing in the way of where that energy is. We need to make good use of this energy and put it to use into finding a way forward for B.C.”

Sturko was elected in Surrey South as a BC Liberal in a 2022 by-election. She is the second United MLA in three days to defect to the Conservatives and leader John Rustad.

Cariboo-Chilcotin’s Lorne Doerkson crossed the floor Friday, expressing similar disappointment at a lack of an alliance between the two parties and saying momentum now clearly lies with the Conservatives.

Sturko said she simply cannot fathom another term of a BC NDP government, and is making the switch to support the most realistic option to defeat the New Democrats.

More than half a dozen polls the last few months have shown the Conservatives surging to within a few points of the incumbent NDP, while United falls to a distant third or fourth place choice among decided voters.

“BC United was not able to be successful in finding a way to work together, and at a certain point I had to make a decision for myself,” said Sturko.

“You can ignore the polls if you want, but what I can’t ignore is people I’m serving tell me they want me to find a way to form that coalition again.

“I had hoped for the best from BC United, but ultimately I had to make a decision that I felt was in the best interest of British Columbians.”

Of all the blows the beleaguered BC United party has taken in recent months, this may be the most serious.

A former RCMP officer, leader in the LGBTQ+ community and top critic on major issues like decriminalization and safe supply, Sturko’s credibility had been a driving force for United on the key files of mental health, addictions, crime and public safety.

It’s a surprising defection — not just because Sturko is one of BC United’s star MLAs, but also because she is a prominent member of the LGBTQTS+ community and is joining a Conservative party that has repeatedly been criticized for having candidates and policies that are homophobic and transphobic.

“I’ve had these conversations with John, and I would be obtuse that this isn’t a concern or a consideration,” said Sturko.

Last month, Rustad accepted the resignation of Courtenay-Comox candidate Damon Scrase, who described LGBTQ pride parade participants in social media posts as “degenerates” where “perverts expose themselves to children for kicks.”

Sturko said the comments were offside.

“Have inappropriate things been said? Absolutely,” she said. “I’m glad Damon Scrase’s resignation was accepted. But I am not going to spin my wheels in the Twitterverse when I should be out there fighting.”

Conservatives have also targeted Sturko in the past. In 2022, Paul Ratchford, then a regional organizer for the party and now its Vancouver-Point Grey candidate, called her a “woke, lesbian, social justice warrior” in a social media post.

Sturko said she’s not going to worry about “Twitter wars” with people when there are larger issues at stake.

“Does every single person in a coalition agree on every single item? No they don’t. But I’ve had very frank conversations with John. I certainly would never support any type of legislation or action that would see the rights of any British Columbian or Canadian diminished. And he feels the same way.”

The Conservatives also introduced a bill in the legislature to ban trans women from competing in competitive sports against biological women, have promised to repeal the sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) learning module in B.C.’s school curriculum and have spoken against the concept of gender-neutral washrooms.

Sturko said she was first approached by the BC Conservatives near Christmas and was one of the United members urging Falcon to open serious co-operation talks with the Conservatives. He did not.

It wasn’t until May that United offered a non-compete deal, which would have protected its 15 incumbent MLAs and held a draft lottery for the two parties to divide up ridings. The Conservatives rejected the offer, calling it desperate.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 16 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.

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