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Rob Shaw: Do the BC Conservatives have a vetting problem or a judgment problem?

BC Conservatives under the microscope after candidate's controversial exit
Damon Scrase has stepped down as the B.C. Conservative candidate for Courtenay-Comox. | Damon Scarse via X

BC Conservatives are chalking up the resignation of their Courtenay-Comox candidate over homophobic social media posts to a failure in vetting. The more concerning problem for the surging party, however, is the failures it showed in judgement.

Leader John Rustad said the party’s vetting system failed to catch the social media posts of candidate Damon Scrase because, until recently, it relied mostly on party staff to comb through candidate backgrounds on top of their day-to-day duties.

“Damon had put out a number of tweets, unfortunately, that had been scrubbed from the net before we got to the vetting process,” Rustad told me.

“So we were unaware of the information that was on there.”

That’s not quite accurate, however.

Most of Scrase’s posts on the X platform (formerly Twitter) were still online for his political rivals to view when his candidacy for the BC Conservatives was approved in January.

That allowed BC United to put together a 56-page binder of the various ignorant, stupid and vile things Scrase had said in the past two or three years — material readily available to the BC Conservatives before, during and after they approved Scrase’s candidacy.

Rustad was also confronted with the material directly by media several weeks ago at the legislature. He brushed off concerns, saying candidates have the right to speak freely. Neither he, nor the party, appears to have followed up on the issue at the time.

Which brought us to this week, when CKNW host Jas Johal dumped much of the United-provided material on social media in one fell swoop.

LGBTQ members who march in parades are “degenerates” where “perverts expose themselves to children for kicks,” Scrase wrote. COVID-19 vaccines were like Mayan sacrifices, Nazism and apartheid, he wrote, repeatedly.

He claimed he was “raped” by the government when he agreed to be vaccinated. He called the Black Lives Matters protesters “retarded.” He repeated conspiracy theories about global control of world events. He accused public school teachers of raping children and decried “shitlibs in politics and media” for defending them.

When the White House posted a photo of the West Wing lit up in rainbow colours to honour of the LGBTQ community, Scrase replied to the government account: “Parents shouldn’t be sanctioned by their government to castrate their own kids. Nice try groomer.”

Page after page of absolute garbage. A young keyboard warrior, raging at the world with the righteous fury of profound ignorance.

Yet, Rustad had gone so far as to recently invite him down to the legislature to pose for photo ops with himself and MLA Bruce Banman.

In the future, Rustad said, the party has hired experts to comb through candidate social media feeds.

“We’re outsourcing a lot of vetting,” he said.

“So I’m confident we’re going to be catching anything that comes up in the future that may have been missed.”

Rustad, in an interview, refused to distance himself from Scrase’s homophobic posts or say if he disagreed with them.

“I have no comment further with regards to what he actually said,” said Rustad.

This is the third Conservative candidate to quit or be fired in the last two months. Esquimalt nurse Jan Webb was tossed for claiming vaccinated people actually spread more COVID and Denman Island doctor Stephen Malthouse was fired for claiming vaccines make a person magnetic.

“John has attracted, frankly, a clown car full of candidates that have really extreme opinions, that he apparently is quite comfortable with allowing as part of his party,” BC United Leader Kevin Falcon told me.

“And that’s not a bug, that’s a feature of the BC Conservative party.”

Premier David Eby called Scarse’s comments “reprehensible, they’re homophobic, they’re hateful, they’re divisive.”

“The big problem is not just with this one candidate, but that these views run through the entirety of John Rustad’s party,” said Eby.

Scrase took to his much-beloved digital platforms to post his resignation.

“Like many of us I have made posts on social media years ago that make me wince, which don’t reflect what I think or who I am today,” he wrote.

“I recognized this and deleted them. I do not want my old, unfortunate comments to distract from the important work currently being done to fix our incredible province.”

His position barely lasted a few hours.

Scrase then posted that he never actually apologized for anything, still stands by much of what he said and shared a comment that slagged Rustad and the Conservative party.

So much for old comments that no longer reflect who he is and for not wanting to be a distraction to the campaign.

Scrase’s behaviour post-resignation highlights the real failure of the BC Conservative candidate selection process. It wasn’t just vetting. It was in choosing an immature idiot as a candidate.

The leader played a big role in that selection. Rustad will have to do a better job picking better candidates, or else he’ll continue to undermine his party’s surging momentum.

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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