In B.C., the Green Party's power buds

With newfound leverage, the Greens could push for concessions on electoral reform, Site C, Kinder Morgan and big money

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver gets out of a vehicle to stop to talk to reporters outside a campaign stop by NDP Leader John Horgan in Nanaimo, B.C., on Friday May 5, 2017. A provincial election will be held on Tuesday. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver gets out of a vehicle to stop to talk to reporters outside a campaign stop by NDP Leader John Horgan in Nanaimo, B.C., on Friday May 5, 2017. A provincial election will be held on Tuesday. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

The emergence of the B.C. Green Party as establishment power broker was a twist few expected when British Columbians went to the polls this week. Christy Clark’s Liberals winning 43 seats, the NDP 41 seats and the Greens three (with recounts pending), thrust B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver into the unexpected role of, if not kingmaker, then key court negotiator. The election saw the Greens bud if not bloom: the party tripled its seats and doubled its popular vote to an estimated 16 per cent. Weaver, a former climate scientist, proclaimed the victory “the first ever Green-elected caucus in North America.”

As to how the Greens’ newfound leverage will be wielded, Weaver’s not tipping his cap. He told reporters it’s too soon to make any decisions about forming coalitions or informal working agreements with other parties, and that he is less interested in political gain than moving Green policies forward.

Based on the party’s electoral platform, he’s talking increased carbon taxes, eliminating the first-past-the-post electoral system, and establishing housing and economic policies that husband natural resources, with increased monitoring and enforcement. A handicapper’s guide would include the following as key negotiating issues that could tip the political scales:

Electoral reform:

Replacing first-past-the-post with proportional representation (PR) is a fundamental piece of the Green Party platform provincially and federally. (Under simple PR, which awards seats proportional to the popular vote, the party would have won 18 seats in the B.C. election.) Without PR, the Green’s electoral successes in countries like Germany would not have been possible. B.C. has held two PR referenda (which would have introduced a single transferable vote system), the first one in 2005 garnering 57.7 per cent support from voters. The NDP is on board: In his first major policy announcement, NDP Leader John Horgan promised to advocate for a switch to proportional representation. Liberal Premier Christy Clark once was an advocate; her position now is less clear.

Site C:

Weaver has called the $9-billion hydroelectric project announced by the Liberal government in 2014 “the wrong project at the wrong time.” Horgan has been more circumspect, saying he doesn’t have enough information to take a position. He’d be prepared to shut down the hydroelectric dam, he said, if a post-election review by the B.C. Utilities Commission supports that decision.

Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline:

Weaver is adamantly opposed to the $7.4-billion pipeline expansion scheduled to begin in September. Horgan has promised to “use every tool in the toolbox” to stop a project that has seen Clark face a barrage of criticism and conflict of interest allegations.

A ban on big money in BC politics:

Weaver called for an end to the corporate and union donations that have plagued Clark as his first priority. Horgan, too, has attacked the Liberals on this count: “They are bloated, they are arrogant, out of touch and their singular focus is filling up their coffers with big money and making sure they address the needs of the people passing them the bucks.”

Raising carbon taxes

This is a central platform plank of the B.C. Greens, and it’s non-negotiable, says Ottawa City Councillor David Chernushenko, a former senior deputy to the leader of the Green Party of Canada who left the party in 2008. “You can’t be serious about climate change and not be serious about ratcheting up taxes.”

Weaver is not in a position to lay out a comprehensive platform at the outset, Chernushenko said. “It’s more important to pick out one or two issues that are essential,” he says, citing issues revolving around climate change, while noting electoral reform is also non-negotiable. “If we had that, we would have seen a Green breakout a decade ago,” he says.

READ MORE: B.C. Election 2017: How the electoral map changed

The B.C. Green’s newfound clout could influence other political races, says Chernushenko. “In the past, Green candidates heard, ‘I like you, I think you’re the best candidate and have the best platform but I don’t think you could get elected,’ ” he says. “Now a voter can say, ‘Oh, I might have real influence. It’s no longer a wasted vote.’ ”

That we could be seeing this in B.C. isn’t surprising, in retrospect. The B.C. Green Party, founded in 1983, the same year the federal Green party was founded, has had traction in the province, winning nine per cent of the popular vote (but no seats) in 2005 under leader Adriane Carr. Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May saw her first federal electoral win in 2011 running in Saanich-Gulf Islands. (May previously ran unsuccessfully against Peter MacKay in Central Nova, N.S., in 2008, and Glen Pearson in London North Centre in 2006.)

Yet at both federal and provincial levels, the Greens have been riven by internal debate about whether they’re a political party or a social movement. It’s a schism that could play out in various ways in B.C., including internal revolt against any perceived Clark government alliance. Another looming risk for the Greens is buttressing the NDP’s momentum at their expense.

Weaver comes to the table with a unique skill set. The former professor (and a lead author on four scientific assessments by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body that shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore in 2007), was a reluctant politician; he repeatedly refused the entreaties of B.C. Green leader Jane Sterk before running—and winning the B.C. Green’s first seat in BC—in 2013. His stated MO is to focus on “policy not politics” and a non-partisan “collaborative approach,” which suggests a rejection of old-school political alliances of yore.

Weaver’s newcomer status comes with advantages, one being that he hasn’t been subject to the partisan name-calling and put-downs that have punctuated the Clark-Horgan relationship. Weaver told reporters he sees no reason a minority government could not survive the full four years, a statement that suggests either political naïveté or supreme confidence in his ability to negotiate. Either way, B.C. politics have never looked as green.


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