What is one to make of former B.C. Green leader Andrew Weaver’s decision to leave his party and sit in the legislature as an independent, effective Monday (January 20)? And how should Premier John Horgan respond, in the interests of our province and his party?
The answer to the first question might be more clearly evident if the premier were smart enough to effectively answer the second question by doing as I suggested in 2017.
Namely, to invite Weaver to serve in cabinet, as he prepares to exit politics and return to his academic career at the University of Victoria whenever Horgan drops the writ. It would be a fitting end to a most distinguished political career for a man who warrants all progressive-minded British Columbians’ undying respect and gratitude.
Unlikely? No doubt. Especially given Weaver’s stated reasons for abandoning his caucus after just having resigned as leader and announcing that he would not be seeking another term as the MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head.
He said this in his statement on Wednesday:
“Over the last few months I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about how best to balance my commitments under the Confidence and Supply Agreement (CASA), my desire to see the BC Green Party grow its political presence in British Columbia and increasing health demands affecting my family.
“After careful consideration I feel it is best for all parties if I continue my legislative work as an independent member, prior to the beginning of the spring legislative session. As the leadership race unfolds, I believe that it is important for the BC Green Party to develop a new vision and voice independent from mine. My presence in the BC Green caucus could hinder that independence.
“Sitting as an independent will also give me a better opportunity during the upcoming legislative sitting to attend to personal matters, including a number of health challenges affecting my family.”
Others have suggested that all of those issues could have all been accommodated without Weaver quitting his party. True enough, he could have remained mute on the leadership contest and been “granted” an extended compassionate leave to help support his wife and family in their time of need.
Then again, I can well understand why Weaver and his family would sooner not have to deal with the inescapable added stress and pressures of partisan politics while battling life-threatening health challenges.
As long as he remained in the Green caucus, he was bound to remain as the de facto leader in the public’s eye. Everything said, done or promised by those who stand to replace him would be constantly scrutinized by the media for the degree to which it did or did not align with his decisions, views, and example.
Just because Weaver’s elected colleagues in the legislature would have surely tried their best to be supportive of him and his family doesn’t mean that he would have been saved harmless from the questioning media and the chattering “mooks” and “knights” on the “Internet of Beefs” (a must-read from Ribbonfarm’s Venkatesh Rao).
Even the daily House routines of working with his former two Green caucus colleagues would have been taxing, to the extent that either or both of them felt obliged to chart a new path for their party that partisan politics dictates will increasingly diverge from the one Weaver navigated in partnership with the Horgan government.
Adding to that stress would be the prospect of also watching the party he built implode in trying to resolve its own existential crisis through a dispiriting leadership contest. Weaver was never born to bite his tongue or pretend to support people and ideas that he cannot support in good conscience.
Disingenuous politics have always been fundamentally alien to Weaver’s wheelhouse, which has always been mostly defined by his penchant for candour, truth, and authenticity.
The very notion of either staying mum on the sidelines as a good “team player”, come what may, or being targeted by those who seek to distance themselves from his party’s self-nullifying too constructive relationship with the NDP was probably not a happy one.
Weaver allows B.C. Greens to define themselves
It was a bleak prospect made tougher still by the likelihood that Weaver will ultimately be replaced by his former caucus colleague, Sonia Furstenau.
However capable, earnest, and intelligent she has certainly proved herself to be, Furstenau is hardly a small-l liberal of Weaver's ilk, or a leader of his now legendary and historic stature.
Unlike the voters of his or Adam Olsen’s ridings, nearly 53 percent of her own constituents in Cowichan Valley voted against proportional representation. If she couldn’t “deliver” that critical vote for electoral reform in her own backyard, which was so critical to the Greens’ long-term political relevance and success, it might say something about her leadership skills.
Bottom line is, Weaver and his family didn’t need the drama of him being stuck in the role of an unflaggingly supportive, politically impotent notional party leader and all that entailed, directly and indirectly.
Especially while trying to cope with health issues that drain everything from his family’s physical and emotional reserve tank, and that highlight how trite, trivial, and largely pointless partisan politics tend to be. Particularly in B.C.’s polarized political culture.
As Weaver said in his statement, his independence confers the gift of independence from him to anyone who seeks to replace him and veer hard to the left of his ideological comfort zone.
It affords all those who feel obliged to define themselves in contrast to his example unfettered independence from his beliefs, values, preferences, and priorities—and from his stellar example as a decidedly centrist Green leader.
Whoever fills that role will be pushed hard by the likes of former B.C. Green leader Stuart Parker and his new B.C. Ecosocialist Party, as Weaver’s former party tries to differentiate itself from both the small-l liberal party it became under his watch and from the Orange Crush that so successfully coopted it under Horgan’s mastery of the GreeNDP alliance.
Yet whatever “favour” Weaver feels he might have done his former party by bolting from it as it chooses his successor, to help liberate it in finding its future voice and leader, it was nevertheless an unwelcome “kindness” that likely sealed the Greens’ fate.
If the B.C. Green party was sorely challenged in the wake of Weaver’s initial resignation as leader to fill his impressive shoes, it will be so much tougher to do so now, what with its Achilles tendon dangling in a bloody heap from this cut to its relevance and viability that his sudden departure inflicted.
Don’t say we weren’t warned he was never comfortable as a partisan. And don’t doubt for one moment that his only true allegiance has always been to do what he deems best and right for his family and our province, in that order.
Entering the partisan fray and leading the Greens to push the NDP to embrace their better angels, on climate change especially, has always been Weaver’s driving motivation.
Weaver achieved that in spades, I say, whatever hard compromises he felt obliged to make along the way in also teaching himself what governing entails and demands in our increasingly challenging political world.
Weaver outfoxed by Horgan on LNG
Pragmatism must prevail when principles of equal merit run afoul of their own ends and of each other in unresolvable idealism that leaves more problems than solutions in the wash of its unyielding purity.
I suspect Weaver’s greater and overriding wish is for the NDP’s climate action plan, which he so largely authored, to live on—and more importantly, to be executed.
His greatest fear is to see it blown to smithereens, as it surely would be if Andrew Wilkinson’s B.C. Liberals form the next government.
That is Weaver’s life mission, first and foremost: helping to stop the Earth from cooking itself to death, an imperative that is growing more dire and unlikely by the day.
As Weaver also said in his statement, “I entered politics to have a positive impact on the political discourse on climate change, and I am very proud of the accomplishments of the B.C. Greens under my leadership.”
Yes, he got outplayed on LNG by John Horgan in not preventing those added massive GHG emissions in negotiating the CASA. He got snookered by his own hubris on that issue, misreading the global markets and the world’s relentless appetite for that shippable form of natural gas, its baffling economics, and Horgan’s hawkish support for the B.C. Liberal vision he once criticized.
Weaver also erred in so prominently and proudly validating the NDP’s still largely unconvincing climate action plan, fundamentally hobbled as it is by the Horgan administration’s more pressing passion for exponentially increasing B.C.’s fossil fuel industry with billions of dollars of taxpayer-funded subsidies for LNG.
But those mistakes aside, had it not been for Weaver’s herculean personal commitment to climate action, through his leadership of the Greens, the NDP’s climate plan would have been even more tepid than I have argued it is.
Despite its many weaknesses, including a glaring lack of tangible accountability and politically hard short-term actions, that plan is still leaps and bounds better than the one former premier Christy Clark foisted on B.C.
And here’s the really scary thing: her non-plan was “progressive” in contrast to what “Andy CAPP” Wilkinson has been saying of late.
He has been slamming carbon pricing and doubling down on fossil-fuel growth as his party’s singular economic prescription. If his new, new B.C. Liberals ever get the keys back to the cabinet office, it won’t just be the Horgan-Weaver climate plan that is forever fracked to pieces. Gordon Campbell’s globally-lauded climate action vision will also be consigned to the dustbin of history.
What really keeps Weaver up at night, family health issues aside, is probably not what he might have done, or what others—such as the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs—might yet do to stop the Coastal GasLink pipeline and with it, the LNG Canada project.
Rather, it is what Wilkinson appears hell-bent on doing in his hard-right bid to form the next government. For he clearly aims to march B.C. backward in the footsteps of Jason Kenney’s Albertan dinosaurs, in essentially declaring war on the war against human-induced climate change.
Weaver could be deployed to stop Wilkinson
Weaver’s ongoing crusade remains the same, which I would argue stands to be newly strengthened by his decision to sit as an independent. It is to preserve, promote, and advance the progress he envisioned and successfully codified on climate action through his years of scientific research, and through his effective political advocacy and leadership, in partnership with both the Campbell and Horgan administrations.
The biggest threat to that mission for those under orange, green, or for that matter, blue and red partisan flags alike is patently clear: it is the election of a B.C. Liberal government sworn to the black flag of Big Oil under its most supportive and malleable apologist, Andrew Wilkinson.
To the extent that vote-splitting stands to further exacerbate that very real threat to B.C.’s desperately needed carbon emissions reduction efforts, the need to consolidate that climate-conscious voting block under the NDP is self-evident.
Which is why Horgan should invite Weaver to join his cabinet, if only as an independent, without joining the NDP.
Nothing would do more to consolidate Horgan’s strength heading into the next election than for Weaver to help lead his case for a new term in office.
Nothing that Weaver or Horgan could do would better serve the people of our province than to send this message to all Greens and indeed to all progressive voters: unity of purpose on climate action starts with surmounting the dubious and often false partisan divisions that reward only those who are intent on taking B.C. backward.
It’s time to get real. If we really regard global warming as a climate emergency, the last thing we need is to reward the world’s worst climate deniers with governments sworn to reversing the limited progress on climate action that might be advanced through solidarity of purpose.
The Greens can’t possibly win the next B.C. election: but their supporters can elect a government that is at least notionally committed to Weaver’s plan for advancing climate action.
If Weaver and Horgan’s NDP can find common ground as they have on that and so many other public policy priorities, why not formalize that partnership anew by inviting Weaver to stand with the NDP in healing the ideological divisions that can only frustrate its higher purpose?
If Weaver and Horgan can let bygones be bygones and sit together as partners for lasting climate progress at the same cabinet table, why can’t all of us in B.C. who are committed to advancing that objective as our highest human imperative also do likewise?
Could Horgan use Weaver’s expert advice in cabinet over the next 15 months? You bet.
And not just on climate mitigation and adaptation, as Weaver has so ably demonstrated by his leadership on so many issues over the last two and a half years.
Cabinet carrot can prevent Weaver resignation
Fact is, in whatever time remains until B.C. next goes to the polls, Weaver still has a lot to offer.
If Horgan truly wants his administration to serve out its first full term and not instead call a snap election, he would be wise to give Weaver a new reason to not just up and quit, whenever the B.C. Green party leadership is concluded.
As things stand, I fully expect that’s exactly what he will do, ostensibly, to allow his successor to seek a seat in the legislature—which would likely instead trigger an early general election.
There might be good reason why Weaver would jump at the chance to serve alongside his former partisan opponents in cabinet, especially if joining the NDP was not a prerequisite.
Let’s assume all goes well on his family health front in the next four to five months, such that Weaver might feel he is once again in a position to undertake a new challenge in also consolidating his public contributions and legacy in elected office.
What else might motivate Weaver to join Horgan’s executive council—perhaps as a minister of advanced education, science and clean technology, or some other suitable portfolio?
If he’s learned anything the hard way, it is this one basic truth that no one can fully appreciate until they put their neck completely on the line in not only serving in an elected office, but in leading a major political party.
And that truth is this: leading any party is a lot of hard work that only finds its just reward in the lasting material merit of all that enterprise actually accomplishes.
Opposition ain’t it, believe me.
Leading a party, as they say, is the ultimate selfless and too often thankless task of herding cats. It can be as fun as it is frustrating, but it is only really worth its weight in time and energy when it is possible to put ideas into action.
And that means holding power, not chirping from the cheap seats, least of all at your supposed ideological brethren.
It means seeing what needs to be done to solve real human and environmental problems, and then wielding power to make meaningful progress toward those ends.
It means putting partisan politics in perspective and acting as need be when it threatens to do more harm than good, or to frustrate all that is supposed to lie at the very heart of public service.
Leading a distant third party can be an especially thankless task—particularly when the worst sniping comes from within.
There is nothing more disheartening for any leader than coming to realize that he or she sometimes has less in common with those fringe elements of their own party than with the supposed “enemies” who at least understand that progressive politics is always the art of acceptable compromise.
What clout does any independent MLA really have in shaping the government decisions that are made in cabinet and in the government caucus? Absolutely none.
And that’s no fun. It’s pointless time wasted, in and out of an archaic chamber that is all noise and deaf to all real honest dialogue.
The simple truth is this, as Weaver is now acutely feeling, just as Horgan did in the not-too-distant past in facing his own health battles and those that impacted his family.
Life is too short to waste on dancing away from the problems that we compound in partisan silos. There’s much more percentage and satisfaction in working together as circumstances afford to solve them, ever leading by example.
Weaver’s last chapter might yet be his greatest and most significant yet, if Horgan also sees the value of turning his party’s own page to a new chapter for British Columbia that he alone can author by inviting Weaver to strengthen his cabinet, his party, and our province.
It’s a no-brainer to fully capitalize on someone of Weaver’s intellectual, moral, and expert merits, if he’s able and willing to work together with Horgan & Co. as the valuable contributor to the betterment of B.C. that I absolutely know him to be.
He’s one of the finest MLAs and most important party leaders that B.C. or any province has ever had.
Whatever these next 15 months holds for him and his beloved family, I wish him and them well—ideally, as an active member of Horgan’s outstanding cabinet that has already done much more in its first half-term in office than most cabinets achieve in their entire lifetime.