BC NDP

Why are two BC Liberal MLAs sharing fake news and conspiracy theories?

The year is more than half-over, and the BC Liberals have spent much of it saying terrible things.

They range from dunderheaded comments about renters and students from Andrew Wilkinson to outrageously offensive outbursts about BC’s minority communities from Rich Coleman, Jas Johal and Ian Paton. Now, two more BC Liberal MLAs have joined them.

Last week, John Rustad, the MLA for Nechako Lakes, shared a shocking story about the euthanasia of 23 endangered mountain caribou by government researchers on his Facebook page.

The post quickly started to circulate online, and angry comments poured in.

There was just one problem. It wasn’t true. At all.

CBC News spoke to scientists who confirmed that 15 domesticated, bottle-fed caribou had been brought in from Alaska for a research project.

By the end of the project, 8 babies had been born, bringing the total to 23. Of those, 21 were donated to zoos and 2 were euthanized.

Rustad's story wasn't just wrong; it was essentially the opposite of what really happened. And as the spokesperson for the BC Liberals on the caribou file — Rustad really should have known better.

Confronted with the correct information, most people would apologize and back down. John Rustad chose a different path.

"If there's errors and stuff made, I certainly don't want to be part of what would be considered fake news. At the same time, when information like that comes forward, it's a piece of information that's worth sharing." he told CBC News.

In a follow-up post on his Facebook page, he continued defending his choice to post fake news.

"How much scrutiny should a politician, someone from the media or someone from the public at large do before posting information. As a society, how much scrutiny do you consider when you read a post? I am happy to update anything I post when and if more accurate information is provided. But that still begs the question: in the world of fake news, how should social media be "policed" to make sure accurate information is shared?"

A few days later, Linda Larson, the BC Liberal MLA for Boundary-Similkameen, was in the middle of an interview with CBC radio when she started sharing conspiracy theories about a proposed national park in her riding.

Here’s Larson’s response to a question about opposition to the park:

“International money lobbying is also part of pushing (sic) in British Columbia right now... This is another example of urbanites pushing rural land use planning onto the rural residents of BC, and it’s happening all over the province as you well know.”

That’s bad enough, but she wasn’t done.

“You have followed a lot of these different groups, everything from Greenpeace onwards, the list is extensive. You are well aware that the money to fund them always comes from, as a general rule, outside the country. I’m not interested in discussing that with you. My concern is what’s happening here in the South Okanagan."

Shortly after, she hung up. Chris Walker, the CBC radio host on the other end of the line, says it was the first time anyone has hung up on him in 12 years on the air. He posted the audio here.

Unfortunately, it's not the first time Larson has made this claim.

In 2015, Larson was defending her decision to create a secret, taxpayer-funded "focus group" to vet submissions of interest around the national park to a local journalist. She called those who support the park 'the crazy people out there' and 'extremists'.

Fake news, conspiracy theories — they’re not harmless distractions.

Facebook, Twitter and Youtube all have dedicated teams fighting its spread, and the Canadian federal government has identified it as a risk during the upcoming federal election.

British Columbians deserve to have access to media that's well-researched, factual and informative. At the very least, they least deserve elected officials who won't peddle misinformation, fake news or conspiracy theories. And, unfortunately, in 2019, that's apparently too much to ask from the BC Liberals.