Conservative wedge issues could derail debates in B.C. legislature, expert warns

After the B.C. Conservative leader caused uproar on the first day of the fall legislative session with comments made about SOGI-123, one expert says this could be the norm for political discussions moving forward.

On Tuesday, the only two Conservative party MLAs, John Rustad, and Bruce Banman, used their first questions in the house to rally against the sexual orientation and gender identity educational resources — which Rustad voted in favour of in the past.

Premier David Eby responded to the attack, saying it attempted to derail the debate from real issues such as housing and affordability.

Timothy Caulfield, a University of Alberta researcher who specializes in misinformation, says the provincial Tories are using similar strategies seen by right-wing politicians south of the border.

“We know that these kinds of wedge issues can work. We’ve seen it used in jurisdictions like the United States … Florida and other states, and it really can work. It becomes the focal point of the ideological movement,” he told CityNews.

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He says such topics include climate change, vaccinations, and attacks on the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.

“So much of it is fuelled by misinformation. By things that are either just factually wrong or just a misleading interpretation of the relevant evidence,” Caulfield said.

“If they follow this playbook, we’re going to see more of these wedge issues get raised to the floor. We’re going to see more of the weaponization of misinformation, either explicitly or implicitly. And I think we’re likely to see a lot of these polarizing topics like vaccines, like the idea of freedom of expression, like the idea of gender-affirming care become talking points, which is unfortunate on a number of levels because it can quickly become the topic that everyone is consumed with.”

To combat the spread of misinformation, Caulfield says it’s important to stick with facts backed up by reputable research and evidence.

“I think journalists, I think other politicians, I think other policy communicators should increasingly point to that. We have a body of evidence on all these topics and too often the harm side of the equation comes from a fringe voice,” he says.

“If you do that, there’s some evidence that suggests that can make a difference and you can have an impact on public perceptions.”

The latest polling numbers from Leger show the B.C. Conservatives are second in voter support, behind the NDP and ahead of the BC United Party.

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