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Can BC Conservatives keep up momentum after welcoming defections?

Elenore Sturko speaks with BC Conservative Leader John Rustad after crossing the floor to join his party on Monday, June 3, 2024. Richard Zussman / Global News

In the wake of a pair of high-profile defections between the two parties on B.C.’s political right, the BC Conservatives are vowing to keep up the momentum.

On Monday, outspoken Surrey BC United MLA Elenore Sturko announced she joined the rival party, a move that came just days after BC United MLA and caucus chair Lorne Doerkson defected. And on Tuesday, the United candidate for Coquitlam-Maillardville, a former BC Conservative, dropped out of his race.

With the BC Conservatives polling well ahead of BC United and talks of a merger now in the dustbin, the moves have spurred speculation there may yet be more defections to come.

Click to play video: 'MLA Elenore Sturko quits BC United to join Conservatives'
MLA Elenore Sturko quits BC United to join Conservatives

BC Conservative Leader John Rustad told Global News Tuesday he was focused on his planned full roster of 93 spaces with good local candidates as quickly as possible, to get them on the campaign trail.

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But he acknowledged he was holding space for any other would-be floor crossers.

“We have left some seats open for some potential movement,” Rustad said.

BC United is aiming to field a full slate of candidates, but has just 13 incumbents up for re-election.

Among them are party loyalists Todd Stone, Peter Milobar, Shirley Bond, Jackie Tegart and Trevor Halford.

Incumbents Tom Shypitka, Coralee Oakes, Dan Davies and Mike Brnier are running in places where the Conservatives are polling well. They are, however, long-time party members and are running in ridings the Conservatives have already nominated candidates of their own.

Click to play video: 'Has Elenore Sturko abandoned the LGBTQ2+ community by joining the BC Conservatives?'
Has Elenore Sturko abandoned the LGBTQ2+ community by joining the BC Conservatives?

MLAs Teresa Wat and Ian Paton — both potential targets for the Conservatives have vowed to stick with BC United.

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But Sturko’s departure may herald some of the pressure the candidates are feeling behind the scenes.

Speaking with Global News on Tuesday she said voters had told her on the doorstep they wanted her to make the switch after talks of cooperation between the two parties on the right had failed.

“I am doing what I think is the right thing to do and trying to strengthen behind a party that really is resonating right now with British Columbians,” she said.

While the latest developments appear to show momentum shifting squarely away from BC United, UBC political scientist Gerald Baier said he expects Kevin Falcon to fight it out to the end.

Click to play video: 'Another B.C. United M.L.A. defects'
Another B.C. United M.L.A. defects

“I think we’ve passed the phase of trying to reintroduce BC United as a label. We had a big ad campaign to reintroduce the party in some ways, reintroduce the leader,” he said. “I think its time to play to their strengths which is going to be the quality of some of those local candidates.”

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The Conservatives, as a new party with less money and fewer organizers on the ground, may yet face challenges rolling out a province-wide ground game, he added.

One conservative strategist conceded the presence of BC United and BC Conservatives on the ballot will likely mean a vote split on the right come election day.

“We’re going to hand this to the NDP and David Eby this election cycle, but it’s not about this election cycle that someone takes over on the centre-right, it’s about the next,” Allie Blades with Mash Strategy said.

“What really matters is John Rustad ensuring he maintains a message discipline, a structural discipline, because this could all fall apart for him at any moment, this is a very fickle landscape that he has, and then it would favour BC United.”

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