The opinion polls suggest that Premier John Horgan is headed for a massive victory.
For most B.C. voters, this widely unwanted election is all over but the shouting.
Of which, we should expect to hear plenty during the 90-minute televised leaders’ debate, now scheduled for October 13, starting at 6:30 p.m.
If only from B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson.
Even with nearly a third of the electorate supposedly still undecided, it would take a miracle to put his desperados back in power.
A week in, the B.C. Liberals’ miserable campaign has been a comedy of unforced errors, from Wilkinson’s policy misfires, to his nasty personal attacks, to his candidates’ multiple boneheaded statements and actions.
That sound you hear is the door rapidly closing on his disastrous tenure as Liberal loser-in-chief.
Horgan is crushing this election because he has outplayed, outsmarted, and outcampaigned the opposition B.C. Liberals and Greens alike at virtually every turn over the last three-and-a-half years.
His status as Canada’s most popular premier is a huge tribute to his likability, competence, and entire team in government; and equally, it is a testament to his chief enablers and to the utter lack any effective opposition.
Wilkinson’s wounded warriors failed spectacularly in their parliamentary role as Her Majesty’s Loyal Liberal Opposition. Some of them will have a new opportunity to master that important function over the next four years in the political wildnerness.
Yet the truth is, no one did more to put Horgan in his catbird seat than the three B.C. Green MLAs who contributed so much to his government’s success over the last three-and-a-half years.
They all sang Horgan’s praises and validated his decisions at almost every turn, strengthening his policies and legislation, and pushing him to do better than he would have. Most notably, on climate action the NDP’s CleanBC plan that they coauthored.
And therein lies the Greens’ central strategic challenge: giving voters new reason to elect at least some of their candidates, whose party seems so ideologically aligned with the one that is poised to form perhaps the largest NDP majority government in B.C. history.
Greens propped up Horgan
The leaders’ debate is B.C. Green leader Sonia Furstenau’s best shot to shake things up in making her central case that no one should be trusted with unchecked absolute power.
Yet history tells us that leaders’ debates rarely prove pivotal in fundamentally changing the course of Canadian elections.
The chances of her party holding the balance of power in a minority government are about as likely as the Horgan government meeting any of its legislated climate action targets.
Least of all, its risible latest commitment to “net-zero carbon emissions by 2050”.
Especially, without anyone in the legislature seriously committed to fighting the politically problematic war that is required to realize those climate goals, which are the stuff of fairy tales, as things stand.
As I wrote in the Straight, back in 2018, the GreeNDP’s laudable climate targets are so much hot air.
Indeed, it’s a bit rich to see Furstenau and her Green colleague Adam Olsen now slamming their former NDP partners, in trying to pretend that they did everything in their power to combat Horgan’s unflagging penchant for fracking and massively subsidized fossil-fueled growth.
Sure, the Greens argued and repeatedly voted against Horgan’s LNG bills—which former B.C. Green leader Andrew Weaver would now have us believe he would have resisted by forcing an election, if Furstenau and Olsen hadn’t been so “afraid to stand up to the BC NDP” and “more interested in re-election than they were about standing up for @BCGreen principles”.
Furstenau has yet to forcefully answer that charge.
Though it’s probably safe to say that she and Olsen were blindsided by Weaver’s long-distance puffery about bringing down Horgan’s government if it proceeded as it did on LNG.
Whatever the truth might be, when push came to shove, Weaver’s Greens folded like a cheap camp stool by supporting the NDP on every confidence vote.
They did not fight against LNG, fracking, or Site C as they might have, had they insisted upon enshrining their opposition to those initiatives in the confidence and supply agreement.
To many voters, the Greens got coopted on those and other issues, and failed to fully exploit their disproportionate strength in effectively wielding their balance of power.
Recalibrating the Green pitch
Those voters might ask, why should we expect the B.C. Greens would be any more effective on those fronts, in the unlikely event that lightening strikes twice, with another minority government?
As such, the Greens need to adapt to public perceptions of how this election will resolve itself, and attenuate their central appeal accordingly.
Furstenau might want to subtly, but significantly modify her message.
In essence, her Greens should shift from asking voters to grant them the potential balance of power—a scenario that seems ever more improbable—to holding themselves out as the effective opposition that they never could be in the GreeNDP alliance.
Which is to say, they should try to flip their lightweight status in the polls to their own advantage, so far as possible—like judo—in advancing their attack.
At this point, the Greens are probably wiser to point to the NDP’s runaway strength in the polls as the best reason to take a flyer on some of their 74 candidates, if only to ensure that there are at least a few MLAs who will hold Horgan’s feet to the fire.
Especially in combatting global warming, in protecting old growth forests, and in saving Pacific salmon, and also in giving a sorely needed voice to under-thirty-something voters, as Furstenau has wisely made a centerpiece of her party’s campaign.
To the extent that the Greens have a winning message, Fursteanu’s entire team needs to make this its ballot question: shouldn’t we at least elect a few Greens to hold John Horgan’s new NDP majority government accountable?
Paradoxically, the Greens need to reinforce the expectation of an NDP blowout to successfully make their argument for electing at least some Greens who will push the Horgan government to do more, faster and better.
One, to help allay the fears of those who worry about splitting “the NDP vote” and inadvertently electing Wilkinson’s B.C. Liberals.
Two, because the Greens need to convince voters who do not want a minority government that they should at least want to ensure someone in the legislature will hold the new NDP at least somewhat accountable for its choices and actions.
Three, because they need to give conflicted climate conscious voters the “moral licence” to vote Green instead of voting for their more immediate perceived self-interests by supporting the B.C. Liberals or the NDP.
Many traditional Liberal supporters care deeply about climate change—even some wealthy ones. That largely explains Andrew Weaver’s remarkable success in Oak Bay-Gordon Head, home to some of B.C.’s most affluent families.
It explains the Greens’ counterintuitively strong performance in some of Metro Vancouver’s toniest ridings in past elections.
Lots of those white-collar professionals do give a damn about the frightening future we’re all bequeathing to future generations. Just not enough to overwhelm their traditional fear of an NDP government, or to trump their pocketbook concerns.
Many of those voters no longer fear the NDP, having seen Premier Horgan for what he is.
Namely, a small-l liberal, who proved beyond a doubt that his government is not just fiscally and economically competent, but for the most part, also smartly socially responsible.
Yet many of those swing Liberals will be sorely tempted to vote for Wilkinson’s cynical PST bribe, or for other Liberal promises that would personally benefit them, particularly if they believe that the NDP’s majority victory is at all in doubt.
NDP sympathizers can be pushed to go Green
Similarly, many traditional NDP voters also need to be given a good reason to switch their progressive votes to the small universe of Green candidates who might stand a real shot at being elected.
Understandably, the last thing they want to do is punish the Horgan government for its mostly commendable record, or to deny it the solid majority it seeks.
For them as well, voting Green stands to become a more attractive option to the extent that it does not seriously threaten to fundamentally alter the election outcome.
And equally, to the extent they become convinced that it is in B.C.’s interests to keep the Greens viable, as a democratically desirable voice in the legislature to hold an NDP majority government accountable in a way that the B.C. Liberals never would.
Right now, as much as many voters may be concerned about global warming, the polls also suggest it is simply not going to be one of the top vote-driving issues in this COVID crisis election.
Hate to be a Debbie Downer, but that’s the bitter truth.
This is not the same political world that existed only a short year ago, when 100,000 British Columbians marched on the streets of Vancouver in protest of the utter lack of political leadership here as everywhere in saving our planet from its dire existential threat.
Today, with so many businesses on the edge of bankruptcy and so many households struggling just to make ends meet, economic and financial security reigns supreme.
And climate apathy, borne of climate fatalism, rules the roost.
Most people feel helpless to affect real change that in any event depends on personal sacrifices, economic compromises and behavioural shifts that climate fatalists are mostly not prepared to wish upon themselves.
Compounding that condition are these facts.
Most voters who want real climate action are discouraged by virtually all governments’ climate record, at every level.
They don’t have much faith in another minority government to really alter the damage done and underway, which all governments have only opposed with depressing lip service.
LNG won’t be stopped by climate activism in northern B.C. That opposition is virtually nonexistent, the Wet’suwet’en’s ardent resistance aside.
The Trans Mountain Pipeline is quietly chugging along and most people will tell themselves that Big Oil’s days are in any case numbered, albeit in decades.
Moreover, the suite of likely “exciting” climate policies isn’t remotely as “visionary” as they once were.
Most of the “low-hanging fruit” was picked long ago, dating back to Gordon Campbell’s globally lauded 2008 climate action plan.
The fertile ground of clean energy, zero emission transportation, low carbon building retrofits, carbon capture, and the like have all been beaten to death as initiatives that governments of every ideological persuasion support.
I look forward to the B.C. Greens climate platform to see what new and exciting ideas they might advance, but I will be surprised if they are fundamentally that much different from the NDP’s climate program.
With the marked exception of being four-square against LNG, fracking, and Site C—none of which it will be in any position to stop if either the NDP or B.C. Liberals form a majority government.
Beyond that, Horgan has been given virtually all of the credit for that broader CleanBC vision that the B.C. Greens so vitally shaped, and it is his NDP more than them who are seen are as the prime architects of that plan.
Higher carbon taxes, cap and trade, or other forms of increased carbon pricing are D.O.A. in the brave new COVID world.
Trudeau and Horgan have both double-stamped that reality in recent months.
Several of Canada’s leading climate activists are now pushing government regulation as the more politically palatable means for achieving the deep emissions reductions that they had hoped would be won through carbon pricing.
So, count me as skeptical that almost anything Furstenau can say to differentiate her party on the climate front will rekindle that energy that one of the Greens’ most promising candidates did so much to advance a year ago.
Yet they can do something that neither the NDP nor the B.C. Liberals will ever do: fight like hell in the legislature to push for meaningful climate action that will never materialize without daily loud and effective political pressure.
That’s what the B.C. Greens can offer in opposition, and which they were muted from providing as the NDP’s official partners in power.
Young Green candidates are impressive
For example, North Vancouver–Seymour residents would be very well represented indeed by Harrison Johnston.
He was the lead organizer of that climate strike that attracted 100,000 mostly young protestors to send Greta Thunberg’s climate message to all politicians.
Shame on you all, they all rightly said to the older generations who have been too content to idly sit by, as human-induced global warming cooks our planet to death.
Why wouldn’t we want someone like Harrison to keep climate hope alive with his passionate voice in the legislature and his army of vocal climate champions newly motivated to hold the Horgan government accountable?
We would be lucky as hell to have him in Victoria to help lead the climate charge.
Ditto for the B.C. Greens’ young Kate O’Connor.
She hopes to make history as B.C.’s youngest-ever elected MLA in Saanich South.
That’s not to say that the NDP’s Lana Popham deserves to be defeated in that riding—she is an outstanding MLA, who has done a great job as agriculture minister.
It’s just to point out that O’Connor represents a new generation of climate leadership.
Her social media and other communication skills already clearly show that she's wise beyond her years and more politically deadly than the vast majority of her older peers in this campaign.
She would be a fearless Green pit bull in any elected opposition.
You can bet that globally acclaimed salmon activist Alexandra Morton would sure make her loud mark for the betterment of B.C., if she were to succeed in her bid to represent the Greens in North Island.
She is precisely the kind of razor-smart, politically effective, science-guided expert we need in opposition to hold Horgan’s government accountable.
All of those individuals face very long odds, no doubt.
But they are just three of so many exciting new candidates that Furstenau managed to get on-board in her first 10 days as leader. Even a small group of those Greens would sure change the tenor and substance of legislative debate if they were elected.
Certainly, the New Democrats will do their level best to get their identified votes in the bag before the leaders’ debate.
They will amp up their perennial alarm that a vote for the Greens is really just a vote for a B.C. Liberal government.
But if Horgan’s NDP looks to have a lock on this election, it shouldn’t stop us from asking ourselves this question: wouldn’t be better served by electing at least a handful of Furstenau’s Greens to hold that power in check?
Because we sure can’t count on Wilkinson’s team to properly do that job, no matter how many opposition MLAs they manage to elect.
On too many issues, the NDP and B.C. Liberals are like peas in a pod, and not in a good way.
And on too many other issues, the Horgan government will be tempted to take its left flank for granted, without some Green MLAs in the legislature to cover B.C.’s back.
If Furstenau is as smart and capable as she has thus far demonstrated in her party’s surprisingly compelling underdog campaign, she may yet succeed in making that case to return her party in strengthened numbers to the opposition benches in Victoria.
And that would be a very good thing, indeed.