Skip to content

Opinion: Rutherford, Rustad on parallel paths to face off against rivals this fall

The are some surprising similarities in the leadership journeys of Canucks' Jim Rutherford and BC Conservatives’ John Rustad
Jim Rutherford (left), president of hockey operations for the Vancouver Canucks, and John Rustad, leader of the BC Conservatives, have more in common than their initials, writes Kirk LaPointe.

Vancouver Canucks president Jim Rutherford and BC Conservative Party Leader John Rustad share more than their initials.

They share strikingly similar situations.

Rutherford and Rustad have used their experiences in playing for winning teams to take the reins of lamentable franchises far outside any championship conversation in their realms, then nursed their sorrowful butts back to the precipice of preeminence.

Their journeys are remarkably common. Some of the parallels are eerie.

They have each exceeded expectations in recent weeks.

In Rutherford’s case, it has meant getting the Canucks within a goal in Game Seven of the second playoff round that would have eliminated the favoured Edmonton Oilers – now playing for the Stanley Cup, but never so close to again failing to advance as they were against Vancouver.

In Rustad’s case, it has meant getting the Conservatives within a few poll points of the lead in the province as an election approaches – only in his case, he has been able to do something Rutherford couldn’t in dispatching his prime rival, BC United, as the logical next occupant of the throne.

In both instances, they made some late-season adjustments and acquisitions to bolster their teams, even compromising their positions in order to do so.

Rutherford sourced a star in Elias Lindholm, paid the rival Calgary Flames handsomely for him, and in doing so ran a great risk that at the end of the playoffs he would not get to keep him. As a leader he had to justify the cost as the price of going all-in. Rutherford could see that, in the effort to reach for the brass ring, the benefits stood to outweigh the cost. After a challenging first few weeks, Lindholm became a team leader in the playoffs. But it’s an open question on whether he’ll stay.

Rustad sourced a star in BC United MLA Elenore Sturko, an advocate of LGBTQ+ rights, and traded on the loyalty of his social conservative base in order to do so. Rustad could also see that, in the effort to reach for the brass ring, the benefits also stood to outweigh the cost. Sturko has had to use some deft, deflective, defensive language to justify crossing the legislative floor, and she and Rustad each left supporters scratching their heads on the organizational fit. That being said, she is bound to be a team leader as the election nears. Like free agent Lindholm, though, Sturko may not win her riding – floor-crossings are more failure than success – and it may be quite costly if she chafes the party’s core support and/or doesn’t somehow secure a seat in the next legislature.

In both Rutherford and Rustad, you find a combination of good improvisation when good fortune arrives, along with a recognition that the window for success is open but may close before long.

For Rustad, this is his Gordon Wilson moment for the taking. In the 1991 B.C. election leaders’ debate, Wilson surprised everyone in performing like a world-class politician. In doing so he made the BC Liberals credible and paved their eventual way to power. All of a sudden, there was discipline, a policy focus, and a competitiveness. It meant setting aside individual goals for the sake of the team. Rustad has the opportunity to instill that stability from the ramshackle.

In the Canucks’ case, the early-stage coaching of Rick Tocchet under Rutherford created a playing system that neutralized organizational chaos. Suddenly, everyone was competent – or benched. Players grew up, took responsibility, held themselves accountable, and saw the bigger picture. They set aside individual goals for the sake of the team. As time wears on, Tocchet’s message may grow tiresome, but the opportunity exists to instill that levelheaded culture.

Even so, there is uncertainty about the next steps for JR and JR.

Rutherford is as secure as any sports executive on the planet; he seems to have agency on when he wishes to retire. Rustad is as secure as any party leader on earth; he will only be questioned in the unlikely chance that polls are a world apart from reality.  They’ll get other shots.

Both have compromised their states without any certitude about securing championship, and if Rustad also comes up short in October, he will join Rutherford in autumn dilemmas about their next moves.

For the Canucks boss, the dilemma is distorted by financial constraints on how he can assemble his team’s next version as it tries to grow – which players are helpful and which are not as he pursues the next level.

For the Conservative boss, the dilemma would be less about salary limits than on policy limits – specifically, which ones are helpful and which are not as he pursues his own next level.

Is regression a natural next step in their organizations? Is what we’re seeing transitory lightning in a bottle? Or are both leaders on to something from which they emerge victorious?

Kirk LaPointe is a Glacier Media columnist with the extensive background in journalism.