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Neil Godbout: B.C. Liberals are better off without Rustad

John Rustad put his political martyrdom to a personal cause over his constituents and his party.
John Rustad, then the minister of Aboriginal affairs, speaks to the crowd during a Moose Hide Campaign event at the B.C. legislature in Victoria in 2015. Rustad has been ousted from the B.C. Liberal cabinet over his views on climate change. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

John Rustad has been an excellent MLA for the Nechako Lake region west of Prince George.

Until now.

In his time in office, he has stood up for his constituents in Victoria on numerous occasions and he has voiced valid criticisms of the B.C. NDP government’s forest policies during his time as forestry critic for the B.C. Liberals. He has been a team player in the party caucus and part of a formidable squad with Shirley Bond, Mike Morris and Ellis Ross, representing Central B.C. in Victoria.

So it’s puzzling why he would throw that all away to make a personal stand on climate change that won’t do any good for him, his constituents, his party, his fellow B.C. Liberal MLAs or new party leader Kevin Falcon.

Rustad could have chosen any number of different ways to speak up on climate change (and is smart and experienced enough to know those options) but he chose the one most likely to make headlines and embarrass the party and Falcon.

If Rustad wanted to speak out on climate change or any other issue that does not match the party platform, he could have simply withdrawn from the B.C. Liberal caucus and sat as an Independent, rather than forcing Falcon to kick him out.

He could also have resigned his seat and devoted his efforts to speaking out on the issues that matter to him on his own time and at his own expense, rather than continuing to collect an MLA’s wage from taxpayers.

“I feel obligated to stand up and say that and unfortunately, that view is not one that is reconcilable with Kevin Falcon's perspective on climate change," Rustad told The Citizen.

That is not just Kevin Falcon’s perspective on climate change. It is also the perspective of the party, his fellow B.C. Liberal MLAs, possibly a majority of his Nechako Lakes constituents, certainly a majority of British Columbians and the vast majority of Canadian scientists and climate experts. Why does Rustad think all of these people have to reconcile their views with his?

Party politics isn’t just a team sport, where the party leader is the captain. It’s also about the art of the compromise. Rustad could have kept off social media with his personal views on climate change, while publicly saying he is deeply worried about how government action on climate change is affecting Canadians, particularly lower-income and rural British Columbians. That is a legitimate concern worthy of an elected leader.

Instead, Rustad put his political martyrdom to a personal cause over his constituents and his party.

Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout