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B.C. Greens’ new MLA can change landscape of progressive politics

As the B.C. NDP ponders its future after the spring's devastating election loss, it has more to worry about than simply the fate of leader Adrian Dix. A new player is on the scene that could have a profound impact on the landscape of progressive politics in the province.

The Greens elected their first MLA on May 14, a breakthrough that was some time coming. They are now being represented in the Legislature by renowned climate scientist Andrew Weaver, whose academic pedigree and related global achievements assure him a stature that few rookie MLAs generally enjoy.

Consequently, reporters are likely to give him a voice disproportionate to his party's power and influence.

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On the weekend, the Greens appointed a new interim leader – Adam Olsen, a former councillor for Central Saanich. Mr. Olsen ran a highly credible campaign for his party in the May election, placing third, just 379 votes behind the winning NDP candidate. He is not, however, expected to be the permanent choice for the leader's job.

Most believe that responsibility will fall to Mr. Weaver, who, with his seat, has a bullhorn that a seat-less party head does not. He declined invitations to take on the job now, saying that, as a newbie politician, he has too much to learn. Those who know him believe he wants to see how much he enjoys politics before going all-in by becoming Green leader.

He has said that if he decides to run in 2017, he will almost certainly seek the position.

Still, how the Greens do in the next provincial campaign will be largely determined by how well Mr. Weaver does in making his party a more relevant part of the provincial political discussion; by how well he takes advantage of that bullhorn he has been given.

Fairly or not, the Greens are still widely viewed as a one-issue party: the environment. Former leader Jane Sterk, who deserves credit for the party's rise, liked to say that the Greens' business platform did not get the attention it deserved.

But by my reading, it mostly consists of opposing the exploitation of fossil fuels – "we're digging up B.C. and selling it to China" – and extolling the benefits of wind and solar power to fuel the economy.

Sounds wonderful in theory. But it is a hard sell on the ground. Adrian Dix found that out the hard way by taking a hard-green approach on the Kinder Morgan pipeline. The public let him know what they thought of it.

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The B.C. Greens will remain on the fringe if they continue trying to sell an economic agenda rooted solely in the purported untapped wealth of clean energy. I am all for developing more wind and solar power. But until there are markets for it, and an economic case to be made that it is better for the province's bottom line than natural gas or oil, it is going to be tough to market to the public.

Whether the Greens like it or not, the prosperity of the province will be rooted in resource extraction for many years to come. The party would be far better off coming up with a plan to transition slowly from the old-school development of energy reserves to something that is kinder to the environment. It is not going to happen overnight. In fact, it may not happen in the next two decades.

A credible economic agenda is key to the Greens' hopes and aspirations.

My guess is that this will be extremely hard for the party to do without alienating its core supporters, who want that evolution to total clean energy to happen now. They see any compromise of that mission as being complicit with a corporate plot to pillage the earth for financial gain. End of discussion.

That said, even in the absence of an economic plan that would appeal to centrist voters, the Greens could still make life miserable for the NDP, whose credibility among environmentalists has taken a hit in recent years. Mr. Weaver also has a charisma quotient that NDP leaders have been lacking.

It is completely plausible that, given the exposure the party will get through Mr. Weaver's presence in Victoria, the Greens will increase their share of the popular vote in four years' time. And while some of that could come at the expense of the Liberals, realistically, the New Democrats are likely to bear the brunt.

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Which is the last thing B.C.'s perennial Opposition party needs.

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About the Author
National affairs columnist

Gary Mason began his journalism career in British Columbia in 1981, working as a summer intern for Canadian Press. More


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