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Green Party at a crossroads

With a leadership contest and looming provincial election, the BC Greens face a crucial moment. Its former leader says they must decide if they want to govern, or just keep “shouting at clouds.”
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Happier, headier times. (BC government flickr)

In 2017, everything was coming up Green.

The party tripled its seat count (from one to three, but still), earning them the balance of power. Its leader, Andrew Weaver, was quite literally in the position of choosing the next Premier – like a season finale of The Bachelor.

Just three years later, much has changed.

The Greens and many of their supporters winced as the NDP government they put in charge successfully pursued LNG investment, continued construction of Site C, and botched the proportional representation referendum so comprehensively, some otherwise intelligent people still believe it was intentional. (The Greens wanted PR so badly they originally asked the NDP to simply impose it, without risking a public vote.)

To be fair, Weaver stresses he has enjoyed working with the NDP government, and points to accomplishments he takes pride in, notably the creation of CleanBC. But he’s no longer leader of the BC Greens – or even a member of the party.

Whether it happens this fall, or as mandated by law next year, junior partners in minority governments often experience a letdown in the following election. After all, if you like the government, you’ll likely vote for it; if you don't, you'll probably vote for the party most likely to replace it. With a leadership contest about to wrap up, and “opportunities” for an election on the horizon, the next few months will be crucial for BC’s third party.

“The Greens have to decide who they are, what they want to be, and where they want to head,” said Weaver, adding the three leadership candidates “have to recognize the party is a provincial party, and must speak to all corners of the province, not just to select elements.”

Weaver says a big part of the Greens’ problem goes back to its roots, founded 30 years ago by people who didn’t think environmental issues received enough priority or attention. But that was then, and things have changed.

“No party at any level instigating in Canada can actually get elected these days without actually preaching things like climate change,” says Weaver, qualifying that doesn’t always mean they follow through. (He has a point; the same criticism could be made about parties not walking the walk of fiscal responsibility.)

“The BC Greens have to recognize now that the environment is not something they can own.”

It's not just a broad philosophical disagreement. Weaver has not been shy with criticism for his former colleagues.

“I very much focused on evidence-based decision making. I've seen a lot of decision-based evidence making in the last eight months,” says Weaver.

In a series of tweets this summer, Weaver was particularly blunt in his criticism of former colleague (and leadership contender) Sonia Furstenau’s idea to adopt a four-day work week, which he still thinks was poorly thought out.

“You can't campaign on these far-left ideas that have not been filtered through the lens of is this good for the economy, as well as social and environmental issues,” says Weaver.

Weaver also singled out interim Green leader Adam Olsen’s public handling of the Wet’suwet’en issue, and his travelling to meet the hereditary chiefs at a crucial and sensitive time.

“There were very sensitive leader-to-leader and nation-to-nation negotiations ongoing; it’s a very complex issue,” said Weaver, saying a lot of people contacted him saying they were leaving the party over it.

“It's viewed as inappropriate because in essence, it's undermining the process and promoting civil disobedience.”

Weaver also saw problems with overlap with the federal Greens, and what he calls parochialism.

“I was quite insistent that we not tie ourselves to the federal Greens, because to be perfectly blunt, I don’t see that as a viable governing party…because there’s far too many inconsistencies in their policy,” says Weaver.

“Ultimately, that’s where the politics of most people are, in the centre. They don’t want reactionary governance.”

“There's way too much overlap…with federal Greens in Victoria, BC Greens in Victoria. [And] I've got Adam Olsen's stepfather who sat on executive council. Sonia Furstenau’s husband ran for executive council. Adam Olsen's mother is involved – this has to stop.”

“You've got to move beyond being a parochial party and move into one that represents the broader interests. The only way that'll happen is by moving the party office to Vancouver and electing a leader from the greater Metro Vancouver area.”

Of the three Green leadership candidates, it’s hard not to notice that really describes just one, Cam Brewer. Not coincidentally, last week Weaver joined Brewer’s “advisory council.”

For his part, Brewer also thinks the party needs to adapt and switch gears. After all, it's one of just three major parties in BC politics, and the one that held the balance of power - and yet, it's been a struggle to attract mainstream attention to its leadership contest.

“I think it’s really important for the party to move off the success in Southern Vancouver Island, [and] establish seats in the Lower Mainland,” says Brewer.

“Without that, maybe there hasn’t been the attention [in the leadership race] because there hasn’t been candidates or MLAs in other ridings across the province.”

“I think COVID is part of it, especially the numbers are going up again now. It's August, that's always a bad time to get anyone to pay attention. Unfortunately, the cutoff for registration is actually before Labour Day weekend. That doesn't help.

“The other thing is…we've got a federal Green race at the same time, and there's perhaps been a little bit of confusion, or at least the message has been diluted a little bit,” added Brewer.

Brewer said the party needs to broaden its philosophical horizons, saying there’s a market for a party that says “Look, we’re not just going to protest. We’re not just going to put up bumper stickers. We have a plan to do something about it.”

Weaver also sees the party at a crossroads.

“The question I have is, do you believe in basically just shouting at the clouds, or do you think the BC Greens should be a party that actually wants [to form] government?”

“In my view, the party is at a critical juncture in its future path. Do they veer to the left along the eco-socialist path, or stay the course in the centre with the triple bottom line approach to sustainable development?”

No matter how much attention it gets – or doesn’t get – this leadership race, will provide a telling answer.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca