Martyn Brown: Underestimating B.C. Green Leader Sonia Furstenau might yet be John Horgan’s “fatal infraction”

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      As Premier John Horgan was speaking at his presser today (September 24), someone’s car alarm was blaring in the background.

      Who says the political gods don’t have a sense of humour?

      You can bet the alarm bells are ringing at NDP campaign headquarters, alright, after Horgan’s epic shaky start to this election that no one wanted. 

      Especially in light of the emerging political threat to the NDP that Horgan woefully underestimated in newly minted B.C. Green Leader Sonia Fursteanu.

      Witness her first-rate pitch and subsequent press conference at today’s Union of B.C. Municipalities convention. On every line of attack, she expertly hit her mark.

      I’ll admit it, I really don’t know much about her, aside from her steady performance in the legislature and what others have told me about her—much of which has not been entirely flattering.

      But she has already proved one thing in this election campaign: she is not going to be ignored.

      And that, in turn, might yet prove to be John Horgan’s “fatal infraction”. Because Furstenau is already showing that she can be deadly.

      She has already landed some pretty wicked jabs in countering his pathetic assault on her party’s constructive role in the GreeNDP coalition over the last three-and-a-half years. 

      Fursteneau didn’t take kindly to Horgan slapping her in the face in trying to blame her oppositional stances on a few bills last summer as his “real” reason for breaking his word, ignoring the law, and forcing a snap election in the midst of a global pandemic.

      Yesterday, she showed yet again that she is not one to trifle with.

      She refused to roll over in the face of Horgan’s pathetic assault, just as she refused to let him have his way last July on a bill that proposed several dubious measures to help address the opioid crisis. Which his government had previously conceded required more consultation.

      Her new release put it this way:

      “Earlier today, John Horgan alleged that the Greens’ opposition to Bill 22 was the reason he triggered an unnecessary election. The substance of the bill was also opposed by the BC Civil Liberties Association, the Representative for Children and Youth and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. 

      “In the last session of the Legislature, the BC Greens listened to experts, including the Chief Coroner, when they voiced concerns about the NDP’s plan to detain youth. The experts were clear that this could actually lead to increased fatalities and would violate childrens’ charter rights and the UN Convention on the rights of the child.”

      If Horgan thought he could get away with kicking Furstenau and her party while they’re down, he was dead wrong.

      Don’t sleep on Furstenau, especially in the leaders’ debates, which I’m betting she will ace in a way that even Andrew Weaver never could: “womano-a-mano”, as it were.

      No doubt, the Greens are organizationally inept and they are severely challenged in any number of respects to present themselves as a viable alternative.

      Days into the campaign, only Furstenau and her elected colleague—my MLA—Adam Olsen, are currently nominated as B.C. Green candidates.

      Congrats. That’s two candidates in the bag and “only” 85 to go.

      Knowing how tough it is at the best of times to find good candidates, with even years in advance to prepare, Furstenau’s task is daunting.

      Perhaps she will deliberately opt to not run a full slate and instead focus on a handful of promising target ridings. 

      I have to say, it is the Greens’ own fault that they waited so late in the game to get their act together.

      Stupidly, they trusted Horgan to honour his solemn, signed commitment in the confidence and supply agreement, which he held out in “good faith” to all British Columbians as his personal guarantee of delivering the stable government he now disavows as its opposite.

      They banked on the fixed-election-date law that Horgan’s government amended to specifically assure all voters no election would be held before October 2021.

      Instead of rushing forward with their leadership vote, the Greens naively assumed that no one—especially the self-styled “straight shooter” Horgan—would ever dare be so crass, so irresponsible and so dishonest as to try to take advantage of the COVID crisis as he has. 

      And so, the Greens are evidently a party in shambles, notwithstanding the millions of dollars they have reaped through taxpayer-funded windfalls. 

      Can’t say they weren’t well-funded by thee and me, to a level that far exceeds what they would have realized if Horgan hadn’t also broken his 2017 election promise to not use public funds to finance political parties. 

      Yet here’s the kicker: none of that really means much, in terms Furstenau’s potentially lethal impact on Horgan’s arrogant, opportunistic election gambit for a new term of unfettered power.

      If disaffected ideologically motivated voters simply abstain from voting, the damage will be mostly done to the NDP, no candidates necessary.

      Voter turnout is always a challenge; but it will be easier than ever for voters to justify sitting on their hands rather than risk going to the polls, or take the initiative to request a mail-in ballot.

      The more candidates the Greens field, the more they will stand to sap the NDP’s traditional support base, of course.

      But as Weaver will tell you to this day, his remarkable success last time out was at least due as much to the votes his Greens sucked away from the B.C. Liberals.

      In key ridings where the Greens share of the vote essentially cost the Liberals seats in 2017, especially on Vancouver Island and in Metro Vancouver, Andrew Wilkinson stands to gain an instant advantage if the Greens are unable to find credible candidates to stand for those seats.

      The protest alternative to the NDP, to the extent it’s pertinent, will default once again to the B.C. Liberals in many pivotal swing seats. Last time, the protest vote was the Liberals’ cross to bear. 

      If enough people get really angry at Horgan’s near-illegal act of broken faith and betrayed public trust, history suggests the polls could turn on a dime in the Liberals’ favour.

      Fursteneau doesn’t have to convince voters to vote for her Greens to fuel that dynamic; she only has to make them give a shit about how Horgan is trying to play them for fools.

      If she’s smart and pointed in her central attacks, watch for the major media to aid in that enterprise in trying to make a horserace out of Horgan’s smugly assumed runaway win.

      My advice to any undecided voter who is planning to vote by mail and who is wondering whether or not they should vote Green instead of NDP is to hang tight.

      Don’t mail in your ballot too soon, before you get a fair chance to evaluate Furstenau and her team, such as it is, or you may regret it. 

      Convincing voters to not rush ahead with marking their mail-in ballots will be a key strategic challenge and opportunity for Furstenau. 

      To the extent she succeeds in that mission, the NDP likely stands to lose the most again, and the better the Greens’ prospects will be of electing even a handful of MLAs to once again hold the balance of power.

      More importantly, perhaps, to the extent that Fursteneau outperforms in the leaders’ debates, it will mostly serve to hurt Horgan and help Wilkinson.

      Many women who might have supported Horgan’s NDP last election will be cheering Furstenau on if she uses her considerable communication skills to maximum advantage.

      Young voters might take special glee in seeing her outperform the older male Big Dogs.

      Ditto for other target Green voters who have come to view Horgan’s NDP as anathema to their values and wishes on issues such as LNG, fracking, tax-funded subsidies for Big Oil, Site C, homelessness, income security, forest stewardship, et cetera.

      Certainly, anyone who is seriously concerned about climate change and who hopes to elevate that issue will be hard-pressed to have much faith in either of the two main parties. 

      They shouldn’t discount the vite role that Andrew Weaver and his Green MLAs played over the last three-and-a-half years in pushing the government to do more.

      To the extent that Furstenau is able to marshal her moments in the TV debates to take Horgan forcefully to task for his duplicity in this election – which he of all people is suggesting should be about “trust” – his loss stands to be Wilkinson’s gain.

      Those spectacles are a golden opportunity for her to make her case for a minority government, if only to prevent either Horgan or Wilkinson from having absolute autonomy.

      As for Wilkinson, as we saw in the last debate that he had with Horgan during the NDP’s dishonest and politically manipulated referendum on proportional representation, he is also no pushover. Indeed, he is a damn good debater.

      He is, after all, a Rhodes scholar who climbed to his high office holding multiple degrees, having served as a lawyer, doctor, deputy minister in numerous portfolios, and a minister in cabinet, including as Attorney General.

      Economic development and intergovernmental affairs are also issues in his wheelhouse, given his past experience leading those ministries in his former capacities.

      Morevoer, this campaign’s leaders’ debates won’t be another anti-Liberal tag-team, as they were last election, when Horgan and Weaver ganged up on Clark.

      As premier, Horgan will be the meat in the sandwich this time.

      The two leaders he has dishonestly blamed as the disruptive forces that drove him to impose his cynical early election will eat him alive, if they are even remotely competent.

      Further, given the nature of this virtual campaign, the leaders’ debates will take on even more significance than they typically do. 

      I’ll bet they will attract record viewership and the election may ride upon each leader’s performance. 

      In this campaign, nothing else exciting or substantive will be happening—no rallies, no real human engagement, no real events.

      Just two aging masked men—and one very telegenic, youngish masked woman—talking to phony “average voters” in ridiculous dialogues like the one below, which Horgan tweeted out.

      At least the leaders’ debates hold out the potential for some genuine interaction, if not authenticity, and even for real fireworks.

      They will probably be seriously entertaining.

      Point is, it’s early days, but each time I see Furstenau on my smart screens, she looks to be ever more dangerous to the Big Guy in power, who may have seriously overplayed his loaded hand.

      As I wrote in my last article in the Straight, “political graveyards reek with the corpses of those whose epitaphs all read as a testament to their fatal hubris in taking voters for granted.”

      Horgan’s hubris in trying to lay the blame for his patently evil actions may [yet prove to be the sharpest nail in his government’s coffin.

      Granted, it would take one helluva knockout punch in a leaders’ debate to knock him on his formidable ass. God knows, he can take a punch.

      And yet, Furstenau only needs a TKO to be declared the biggest winner in the leaders’ debates—which I predict she will be, by easily putting Horgan soundly in his place.

      She will float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, while Mr. Rope-a-Dope also gets deservedly pummelled by the Lean & Mean Lawyer in the red and blue corner.

      That’s the thing about those who think they can abuse their bully pulpits for their own advantage: when they go down, they go down hard. Usually, without ever knowing what hit them.

      If Horgan falls, he will lose his mind. I’d pay to watch that.

      His cynical strike could prove to be the death knell for his government. And it will be Furstenau as much as Wilkinson who writes its epitaph.

      Far-fetched, you say? 

      Probably, but stranger things have happened in politics. And we’ve never, ever been through an election like this one before.

      If nothing else, Horgan certainly deserves to be held properly accountable for using the Greens as his sorry excuse for an election that no one wants, that is designed to be undemocratic, and that stands to leave new COVID blood on his hands.

      Are you ready for your close-up, Sonia? 

      You’d better be. 

      Because the cameras sure like you, as many more voters will, each time they see and hear you speak, if you don’t scare the crap out of them in the process.

      And with every well-considered breath and word, you will help your party as you will likely also boost Andrew Wilkinson’s outside chances of becoming B.C.’s next premier.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, and in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact him via email at