Rafe: Elizabeth May and the Greens should double down on BC

Federal Green Leader Elizabeth May with Provincial Leader Andrew Weaver (Green party/facebook)
Federal Green Leader Elizabeth May with Provincial Leader Andrew Weaver (Green party/facebook)

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.

Longtime Bc Premier WAC Bennett's dream is dead
WAC Bennett

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

Artist's rendering of proposed floating LNG terminal in Saaninch Inlet - Malahat LNG
Artist’s rendering of proposed floating LNG terminal in Saaninch Inlet – Malahat LNG

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

Elizabeth May with the Media (T.J. Watt/Green Party of Canada/Flickr)
Elizabeth May with the Media (T.J. Watt/Green Party of Canada/Flickr)

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.

Unlikely story

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.


About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at rafeonline.com.

21 thoughts on “Rafe: Elizabeth May and the Greens should double down on BC

  1. 1 thing i will tell you about Andrew Weaver is if you google him or go to green party website any of that, you will see he isnt just well informed he is extremely well educated and has won himself a ton of recognition and awards….he is no fake fat cat bs crook he is the real deal.. ..https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_J._Weaver

  2. If I’m allowed to comment this year, I’d just like to say that I find the previous comments alarming. The predominant opinions are exactly the ones that allowed the Clark gang to win in 2013. Have we learned nothing from the last federal election? Clark is just as hated by the electorate as Harper was, yet if the above comments are an indication of how the next provincial election is going to go, Clark’s whoppers are going to win her another majority. Can’t we British Columbians stick together for once and elect the only party that has the proverbial snowball’s chance to win?

    I think David Eby would be a great NDP leader IF he were scrappy enough to wipe that pompous grin off Clark’s face, but I don’t think he is. Horgan is much better equipped to do that, but he doesn’t have the charisma that carried Dave Barrett to the Premier’s chair.

    Still, I didn’t think Justin Trudeau had the right stuff either, but people were so determined to get rid of the Harper government, and the NDP, like the Green Party, had no federal track record, so it was obvious to political pundits that the Trudeau Liberals would win.

    Damien Gillis wrote an excellent column that Horgan’s NDP should read, and take very seriously.

  3. Mike Cleven is right re the preferential ballot. After WAC won a majority in ’53 he dumped it. I certainly don’t say that 2017 and 1952 were identical for another thing there were 4 parties in contention then to 3 now. They were similar, however, and in strange years strange things sometimes happen!
    I think Salai makes a great point about Dr Weaver still supporting the disastrous Liberal Energy Plan of 2002 with the payoffs to Independent Power Producers which, as some predicted, would ruin BCH. Weaver was OK while this issue, for reasons I have trouble understanding, lay dormant. It’s Weaver’s fate that it’s coming to life and will be there to haunt him in 2017 – at least it will be if Damien and I and many others have anything to say about it. This is sure as hell no animus against the Greens – I for one feel ill that they support this disastrous policy. It is a declaration that as efitorialists, we are entitled to have and express opinions. What we are not entitled to do is bury or ignore evidence of evil – and we won’t.

  4. I think the NDP would defeat Clark but with a different leader. There is one NDP MLA who has defeated Clark in her own backyard, Point Grey. David Eby would draw new members, mainly young folks, and he has the ability to attract the older voter who is not attached to any party.

    1. Yeah, Eby would certainly be a better choice than Horgan. There is just something about John Horgan that isn’t connecting with the people and I think Clark will trounce him. I doubt the NDP are going to stage a mutiny though with only a year to go and change leaders.

      Maybe Eby gets a run after 2017.

  5. Leave her alone Weaver…
    In my opinion Weaver is the “Green Wolf”.

    The 5 year battle that many NDP supporters and the Shawinigan lake community fought, to stop the illegal dumping of contaminated soil and finally won had nothing to do with any green support but Weaver showed up at the site a day before the illegal dumping was halted.

    The next day Weaver sent out emails to any person who they deemed ” might be a green support” indicating they had influence over the victory and proceeded to ask for donations…

    When the Mt Polly mine disaster broke contaminating the lakes, fish and drinking water Weaver showed up for a short visit to the sight and much like Christy Clark suggested all was fine…

    These are just two examples aside from the site c dame and the run of the river that Rafe mentions in this article.

    1. What’s that you say? Politicians show up late to an issue and take credit for something they had little to do with?

    2. Sorry Lorain, this is factually incorrect. Here is my post on Apri 18 2015 re: Shawnigan: http://www.andrewweavermla.ca/2015/04/18/shawnigan-watershed/

      There are many more on my website. The only people who have any right to take credit for anything at Shawnigan are the citizens of that community who worked tirelessly on the file for years.

      Your Mount Polley statement is also factually incorrect. Here is a piece I wrote on that in 2014:


      I challenge you to find any other MLA who spends so much time documenting findings from a site visit.

      On a different note, one of the issues I have had with the Mount Polley investigation is regarding whose interests are being represented. The company that runs that mine is a heavy donor to the BC Liberals. The workers at the mine are United Steelworkers union members who are heavy donors to the BCNDP.

      We need to get Union and Corporate donations out of BC Politics so that people will have more trust in government acting in their best interest.

  6. Clark is going to wipe the floor with the NDP in the next election; I don’t think it will even be close. I want her gone as much as everyone else; I just do not see any scenario where this is a close election.

    Greens can pick up a seat here and there; but I keep going back to what I think is the Green’s problem. Essentially nobody knows anything about their economic policies and ideas; just the environmental. And, at the end of the day, people want to know they will have a job tomorrow and that their taxes won’t be jacked up. The Greens need to get the message out about money, numbers, and economics if they want to take a serious run at anything.

    1. Dave, thank you for you comments on our party. I encourage you to explore my website: AndrewweaverMLA.ca and our party website Greenparty.bc.ca. You are correct in identifying a challenge we face. But it is certainly a challenge we are excited to take on.

  7. Rafe blurs over how WAC’s 1952 win was the result of a preferential ballot; Grits and Tories wouldn’t vote for each other so put Social Credit for 2nd choice…. and CCF members did the same, rather than choose the Libs or Cons…..and it boiled down to a tie between Bennett and Winch, with the tie-breakers being radical socialist Tom Uphill of the Fernie riding, who didn’t like the CCF so sided with Bennett (and IIRC got a cabinet post as reward)

    The much more relevant “up the middle” story is that of the pre-Campbell BC Liberals under Gordon Wilson Jr in 1991

  8. I was leaning toward Mr. Weaver until he was interviewed by Ian Jessop on CFAX1070 radio in Victoria. The comments were on BC Hydro. Andrew Weaver shocked both myself and Mr. Jessop. He said he was in total agreement with the Liberal crony, “run of river” hydro contracts. I would never vote for someone that actually thought another forty years paying obscene prices for energy that can’t even be described as green was the right thing to do. That leaves the NDP…and I don’t think we can allow Christy and company to further destroy our Province. Another term of their governance is unthinkable.

    1. Salal, If you support fracking, coal port expansion and continued tarsands expansion, then you are planning to vote for the right party. But if you believe that we have to get serious in BC about moving to socially just, low carbon economy, and that it is high time to start developing our fantastic potential for clean energy, perhaps you should have another look at the Green Party. I know this website is has opposed the Liberal Run of the River developments but, in the right spot and done right, they can produce electricity at a reasonable cost with minimal environmental impact. There is no perfectly clean source of energy; any development, be it wind, solar, tidal or geo-thermal, will have some negative impacts. Key to a prosperous clean energy future is to build the right things, in the right way, in the right location. (And site C clearly fails all three tests…)

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