James Marshall: Could Green leader Sonia Furstenau be to B.C. what Jacinda Ardern is to New Zealand?

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      By James Marshall
      While we’ve been in the middle of a provincial election here in British Columbia, the opposite side of the planet has been doing the same. New Zealand went to the polls on October 17 to elect a new parliament.
      The country has been in the news over the past few years for a number of reasons. They’re considered one of the pandemic’s great success stories, by totally eradicating the virus early on and preventing any second waves. But even before COVID-19 hit, the country was making headlines because of the performance of its prime minister, Jacinda Ardern.
      When Ardern became prime minister in 2017, she was the world’s youngest world leader, and in 2018 she became only the second to give birth while in office. She leads the New Zealand Labour party, and her party actually didn’t receive the most votes (or seats) in the election that brought her to power. Rather, she became prime minister by forming a coalition with two other Kiwi parties: the populist New Zealand First party and the nation’s Green party.
      In October 17's election, Ardern and Labour were the big winners: they got enough support to form a majority government and no longer even need their coalition partners.

      There was a worry that the Greens of New Zealand would lose ground in the recent election because Ardern’s Labour party had adopted a number of long-term Green policies and thus may have eaten into their support base. But the concerns turned out to not be warranted: the Greens had modest gains and added two seats. The other coalition partner, New Zealand First, was wiped out.

      Fans of B.C. Green Leader Sonia Furstenau have often compared her to New Zealand’s Ardern, noting their similarities in leadership style as well as a number of policy positions. I challenge anyone to watch last Tuesday’s debate between the three B.C. party leaders and to compare it to news clips of Ardern. Despite the obvious differences in accents, you can notice their shared noncombative styles of communication, their calm demeanours, and the fact that they’re saying a lot of the same things.

      Furstenau was in the news earlier in the year when she pitched that B.C. should explore moving to a four-day work week, which was a policy that Ardern has also proposed. Likewise, New Zealand gained a lot of attention when it announced its “wellness budget” that was based around indicators of health and happiness rather than just indicators of economic growth. This alternative type of economic management has been part of Green platforms for decades, and has been pushed by Furstenau, although it hasn’t gotten as much pickup by local media as in New Zealand.

      There are lines of thought in feminist and governance philosophy that say that women lead in different ways than men. These discussions get contentious, and you can find people arguing both that women have a fundamentally different style (and that this is a good thing), or arguing that this is nonsense and has nothing to do with gender. And, of course, we have plenty of examples of women leading like stereotypical strongmen and men leading with the empathy and care that get stereotypically assigned to women.

      The style of leadership that women like Ardern and Furstenau show is, admittedly, in a minority. Only about half of the world’s population lives in a country with a democratic system, while the rest are ruled by dictators. Many of the countries that are classified as democracies are also considered deeply flawed, and are trending toward more autocratic rule.

      New Zealand has decided that it really likes Ardern. The recent polling after last week’s election debate reported that British Columbians seem to like Furstenau, too.

      James Marshall is running as a B.C. Green candidate in Vancouver-West End. In 2019, he published a book on the history of the worldwide Green movement that included interviews with international Green politicians, including founders of New Zealand’s Green Party.