Rafe: Elizabeth May and the Greens should double down on BC
It being just over a year until the next provincial election I fret that people really have no choice. The government is bloody awful and the opposition is scarcely a government in waiting and a lousy opposition to boot – what to do?
What about a new party “coming up the middle”, something that pundits always talk about but almost never happens?
Wouldn’t be the first time
Well, it happened once in my lifetime, back in 1952, my 21st year. The government, a coalition of Liberals and Conservatives, was appalling, although nothing as bad as Christy’s bunch. The opposition CCF, now NDP, were led by Harold Winch, a highly respected man, their problem being that the right wing had done such a good job of demonizing them that they had a hard time attracting voters outside a select group of supporters.
The Coalition split, ran separately and, of course, the CCF ran, but suddenly there was another player in the game, former conservative backbencher William Andrew Cecil Bennett, running for something called Social Credit, which had little presence in British Columbia and no political leader.
To the amazement of all, Bennett wound up with 19 seats to 18 for the CCF and after a great deal of tooing and froing by Lieutenant-Governor Clarence Wallace, Bennett, who only became leader after the election, was premier and the Social Credit party became government – for 20 years!
A little harmless speculation
I don’t say that it’s 1952 again or, even if similarities are great, that the same thing will happen. It is, I think, both fun and perhaps even helpful to speculate a bit from time to time. If nothing else, it makes for great conversation over a beer or two.
I think that three principles prevail – my own, namely, “You don’t have to be a 10 in politics – you can be a 3 if everyone else is 2”; there’s this from former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson: “In politics, six weeks is an eternity”; and then the general proposition that “politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum”. With those thoughts in mind, let’s take a look at the Green Party as the logical third party in the game.
What would it take?
One must bear in mind, of course, that there were four parties in the 1952 election, although I don’t think it mattered much, as the Liberals were ill and the Tories terminally so.
We have questions: First, is the division in British Columbia such that people are looking for a new option?
Secondly, and most importantly, could that alternative be the Green Party, and, if so, under what circumstances?
Going on the 1952 experience, if you’d asked that question about The Social Credit League you’d have drawn a blank stare. 2017 is different in this respect – the Green Party does have a presence in British Columbia, in the nation and indeed in the world. It is the same as 1952 in that the Greens have never been close to gaining power.
There’s a second consideration, however, that arises out of the previous one. The big issue that concerns the public today – and the Green Party is the result of that concern – is the environment. This issue has taken hold around the world and no longer can the Greens be easily dismissed . The Greens’ problem is that people still see them as a one-trick pony, no matter how hard they plead otherwise. Will the public concern about the antediluvian attitudes of the others about the environment trump these concerns? Might people just say, “What the hell? They couldn’t possibly be worse than what we have and at least they’ll care about environmental matters.”
Greens have a shot in more than one riding
In 1952 there was only one constituency that Social Credit could see as a possibility, Mr. Bennett’s home in Kelowna. In BC today the prospect for the Greens is better in that Dr. Andrew Weaver, their leader, has a seat and has had a term in the legislature as a Green to get experience and strut his stuff.
There are other constituencies, very much including the one I live in, which could easily elect a Green – in fact I find it difficult to think of who else could win in the Howe Sound area. The Liberal MLA has been an appalling failure, having paid no attention to the deep concerns about the potential LNG plant in Squamish. The NDP, who might have a chance under normal circumstances, is a victim of Mr. Horgan’s commitment to LNG and are scarcely seen as friends.
The Greens ran a very good campaign in the last federal election but were victimized by strategic voting by a public that wanted to be rid of John Weston more than they cared about who they elected. That will not be the case in 2017.
LNG helps Greens
Are there other constituencies similar to mine? I suspect the Cowichan area would be fruitful given the government’s support of an LNG plant at Bamberton in Saanich Inlet. There may be others. It’s probably true to say that most ridings have a fairly prominent environmentalist in their midst so that whatever candidate the Greens choose will be reasonably well known, a matter of great importance.
What’s unknown is the leadership ability of Dr. Andrew Weaver.
Does Weaver have the right stuff?
I don’t know Dr. Weaver but what I have heard is all good – except that he supported the Liberals’ horrendous private river power program back in the 2009 election. He is not well known in the province, is not seen as a particularly charismatic individual but is very well-informed, capable, and sincere. But can those qualities be translated into a winning leader for a party that until now has been a “no-hoper”.
It’s here I make one of my famous way-out suggestions. It won’t be followed, so there’s no possible way we’ll know whether or not I might be right. Those are the very best kind of suggestions because if either the Liberals or the NDP win in 2017, I’ll be able to say, “If only those idiots had accepted my suggestion!”
May could pull it off
Here is my proposal: If Elizabeth May was the leader of the BC Green party, I think it would be in there with a chance not just for opposition but who knows, a repeat of 1952?
This isn’t a knock on Dr. Weaver. He has a done an excellent job. Elizabeth May, however, is a one-off, having had considerable electoral experience becoming extremely popular right across the country. She won an enormous victory in her own riding against the Trudeau sweep and is, if my riding is any example, very popular with the grass roots. She has that mysterious charisma as all who have met and heard her will attest. It also helps that she is extremely well-informed on all major issues.
As I understand it, the Green Party’s federal and provincial wings are separate so if Ms. May were to lead the BC wing, it would require 100% cooperation from Dr. Weaver.
Having a been a politician I know that Dr. Weaver is not likely to be thrilled at the idea of standing aside for Elizabeth May or anybody else. He doesn’t have enemies in the party that I know of and no one wants to see him turfed out. Weaver’s consideration is that if May can make substantial inroads into the Canadian political situation by a strong performance in BC, the Greens as a whole suddenly gain legitimacy. I don’t believe that the Green Party can do well nationally until the voting system changes to proportional representation and God only knows when or if that will ever happen – UNLESS, it demonstrates that it could win in a Canadian province. That would have to be the reason that Dr. Weaver would consider any sacrifice.
Being a reasonable man at heart, I don’t think that Dr. Weaver is going to step aside, nor do I think that Ms. May wants to be the leader of the BC party. That doesn’t mean that Dr. Weaver should not step aside nor that Ms. May should not come to BC – they would have to put the Party first – just that I don’t think it’s going to happen.
That being so, I don’t think the Greens can capitalize sufficiently on the horror story that exists in Victoria. My opinion is very different if Elizabeth May is leader because what voters are looking for more than just getting rid of the incompetent Clark government is leadership, something pitifully lacking in Christy Clark and John Horgan and a quality they’ve had every opportunity to see in Elizabeth May.
I leave my prediction like this – with Dr. Weaver as the leader, fine man that he is, the Green Party has two chances: slim and none. With Elizabeth May as leader, they’re in with a helluva good chance.