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Keith Baldrey: LGBTQ school rights brings conflict to B.C. legislature session

Premier David Eby and Conservative Leader John Rustad butting heads over question on SOGI policies sparked raucous reacton last Tuesday
B.C. Premier David Eby was joined by Conservative Leader John Rustad during the October 3 Question Period, the first of the fall session. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

For anyone looking for a quick summation of the current B.C. political scene, go to the B.C. legislature’s Hansard website and check out last Tuesday morning’s Question Period (the first QP of the fall session).

Simply go to the 11:17 (time of day) mark of the Question Period video, and watch for about one minute. The video will show an exchange between B.C. Conservative leader John Rustad and Premier David Eby over the issue of the SOGI 1 2 3 (sexual orientation and gender identity) program in B.C. schools.

Rustad claimed the SOGI program was causing kids to be “sexualized” and said it was a “divisive assault on parents’ rights.”

Eby opted to take the question himself instead of his education minister and let Rustad have it with both barrels. He called Rustad’s comments “outrageous” and accused him of “picking on kids” at risk of suicidal tendencies.

“Shame on him,” Eby thundered. “Pick a different question.”

On television, it looked like a lively and raucous exchange. But for anyone actually sitting in the gallery and watching – as I was – it seemed so much more than that, since the Hansard TV cameras don’t show everything.

As Eby ended his reply, the din in the house became quite loud. A couple of backbench NDP MLAs stood in applause and encouraged their colleagues to do the same.

But I could not help but notice that two B.C. United MLAs sitting just below me – Elenore Sturko (Surrey South) and Karin Kilpatrick (West Vancouver-Capilano) – were almost leading the cheers for Eby and were on their feet in support quicker than almost anyone in the house.

Their actions caused those sitting front of them – including party leader Kevin Falcon – to swivel around and watch in seeming amazement at what they were witnessing.

Perhaps reading the room, they also stood in support of the premier, thus creating an almost unheard of moment in the B.C. legislature: the Opposition providing a standing ovation to a government premier on a highly charged political issue.

However, I also watched three B.C. United MLAs – Ben Stewart from Kelowna, Ellis Ross from Skeena and Tom Shypitka from the Kootenays – as they resolutely remained in their chairs, refusing to join in.

And so, in the space of just one minute, a few things became apparent, not the least of which is that the upstart B.C. Conservative Party showed it could upstage the Official Opposition B.C. United Party.

There was also the uneven and unsteady response of the B.C. United caucus members to what was either their position on SOGI or their feelings about clapping for the premier, a sign perhaps that the B.C. Conservatives will indeed prove problematic for them (I gather that standing ovation was the subject of a heated caucus meeting afterwards).

Then there was an NDP premier evidently feeling so confident that he would throw out the traditional political playbook – one that suggests giving oxygen to any party that splits the vote among opponents – and instead denounce the leader whose party has the potential of almost guaranteeing the NDP a cakewalk to victory come the next election.

The whole drama only lasted a minute, but what a minute.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

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