Some B.C. environmentalists are taking credit for stopping Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Kevin Falcon from becoming premier.
During the recent B.C. Liberal leadership campaign, conservationists infiltrated the party to defeat Falcon, a former transportation minister who spearheaded major road-building projects. On the final ballot on February 26, Falcon ended up with 48 percent of the points compared to 52 percent for the winner, Christy Clark.
The previous day, a volunteer group called Conservation Voters of B.C. urged voting environmentalists to rank Falcon last on the B.C. Liberals’ transferable ballot. A group calling itself B.C. Green Liberals issued the same recommendation to its members.
“I would say that we had the effect of helping to keep Falcon from becoming the premier of B.C.,” Kevin Washbrook, a director of the Conservation Voters of B.C., told the Georgia Straight by phone.
Another director of the group, Will Horter, told the Straight by phone that the campaign “dramatically shifted the vote” in certain constituencies.
He guessed that between 3,000 and 5,000 environmentalists joined the B.C. Liberals during the leadership campaign, and he estimated that they controlled about six percent of the weighted vote. According to Horter, they were concentrated more heavily in constituencies on Vancouver Island, Vancouver, and in the Kootenays, which are mostly represented by NDP MLAs.
Most of those ridings leaned heavily toward Clark in the final round. In Vancouver-Fairview, where MLA Margaret MacDiarmid endorsed Falcon, Clark ended up with 70.1 percent of the points in the final round. In Alberni-Pacific Rim, Clark collected 68.8 percent of the points. And in Kootenay West, she got 60.3 percent.
The B.C. Liberal party gave each of the 85 constituencies 100 points, regardless of the number of members. Horter explained that environmentalists could have a greater impact in ridings where there weren’t many B.C. Liberal members.
In the end, 42 constituencies were targeted: each had either as many identified supporters of environmental groups as the Liberals had members or at least half as many supporters as Liberal members.
“When I did a quick analysis, 14 of the 20 ridings where Falcon polled the lowest were in our target,” Horter said. “It’s pretty clear that we suppressed his vote dramatically.”
Falcon, who was supported by 11 cabinet ministers, did not return a message from the Straight to discuss the outcome of the vote.
Meanwhile, Richard May, a political consultant to the B.C. Green Liberals, told the Straight by phone that more than 4,000 party members followed his slate’s recommendation. Like the Conservation Voters of B.C., his group ranked Mike de Jong first, George Abbott second, and Christy Clark third.
“It’s not like any of the B.C. Liberal candidates were great,” May admitted.
After the second count, Falcon had 30.17 percent of the points and Clark had 42.05 percent. Third-place finisher George Abbott, who won 27.78 percent of the points, was removed from the ballot for the third round.
Abbott had previously announced that his second choice was Falcon, but not enough of his supporters went along with that recommendation to give Falcon a victory.
“It would have added up to 58 percent if all of Abbott’s supporters had followed Abbott’s request for them to vote for Falcon,” May said. “If you look at what did actually happen, Falcon got 48 percent instead of 58 percent, which means 10 percent of the round-two voters”¦who voted for Abbott failed to vote for Falcon.”
Another member of the B.C. Green Liberals caucus, filmmaker Jon Cooksey, told the Straight that the B.C. Liberals made it easy to influence the outcome. That’s because the membership fee was only $10 and people could register online.
“The unifying notion was to prevent Kevin Falcon from becoming premier of the province because he was seen as being so antigreen that he was the worst alternative,” Cooksey stated.
It began with him and some friends sending out e-mails. With a laugh, Cooksey recalled how one friend responded that he couldn’t believe he was joining the party, but later signed up 12 friends with the help of “copious amounts of alcohol”.
Washbrook said that during the campaign, Clark said she is willing to sit down with TransLink to discussion how to fund regional transportation priorities.
He added that Falcon, on the other hand, made it clear that he was going to continue with a "bully pulpit approach to TransLink", whereby it would have to raise money by property taxes or other means to fund projects.
Though that may seem like a small difference, Washbrook described this as "a huge step forward for regional transportation funding and governance".
"So I have high hopes for her on that file," he said.
In addition, Washbrook said there was also a subtle difference in their positions around the carbon tax.
"Falcon was clearly taking his talking points from the business council with the whole pause-and-reset thing, whereas Clark spoke positively about B.C.'s actions to date," he noted. "Now our caveat is B.C.'s emissions have continued to go up."
However, Washbrook, May, Horter, and Cooksey all pointed out that Clark wants Prime Minister Stephen Harper to overrule an earlier decision not to proceed with the Prosperity Mine near Williams Lake.
"I don't know how you square that with a families-first policy," Cooksey commented. "Does that not include First Nations families who will lose their culture because you're going to fill up Fish Lake with mine tailings?"
Meanwhile, a coalition of environmental groups under the umbrella name Organizing for Change sent a questionnaire to all the B.C. Liberal and B.C. NDP leadership candidates.
Spokesperson Lisa Matthaus told the Straight by phone that this “nonpartisan” campaign promoted voter education. Organizing for Change is funded by the Tides Canada Foundation, a registered charity that receives money from U.S. charitable foundations.
“We don’t tell people who to vote for,” Matthaus emphasized. “We don’t rank the candidates or anything like that, but we give people information so they know how to engage and that they have the information to make choices based on environmental records or commitments or statements that politicians have made.”
The Dogwood Intiative, Wildsight, West Coast Environmental Law, Ecojustice, and Georgia Strait Alliance participated in the initiative, according to Matthaus, who is also a director of the Conservation Voters of B.C.
Horter, who is also executive director of the Dogwood Initiative, said that the “untold story” of the B.C. Liberal leadership race is the environmental movement’s ability to flex its electoral muscles.
A North Vancouver researcher, Vivian Krause, has pointed out on her website that the Tides Canada Foundation’s U.S. tax returns show it contributed $90,125 in 2008 and 2009 to Georgia Strait Alliance to fund Organizing for Change.
She has also revealed that the Dogwood Initiative, which opposes the proposed Enbridge oil pipeline, has been funded by at least four U.S. foundations: Wilburforce, Brainerd, Hewlett, and Tides.
Horter claimed that no U.S. funding was directed toward the Conservation Voters of B.C. and no U.S. money flowed into the Dogwood Initiative to influence the B.C. Liberal leadership race.
“The funding that we’ve gotten is just general funding from Americans who agree with the work we’re trying to do here in British Columbia,” he declared. “The argument that there is this U.S. funding coming in here to influence the election is just a bunch of crap.”
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.