News that former leader Andrew Weaver is quitting the B.C. Green caucus to sit as an Independent MLA was quietly welcomed by some in the party who see it as a step towards a more stable, less erratic leadership.
Not that they are likely to say so publicly.
One Green source said there’s a sense within the party that people are looking forward to seeing new styles of leadership focused on building a stronger team and forging better relationships with stakeholders. Weaver’s departure offers an opportunity to build better grassroots campaigns, recruit strong candidates and move forward as a more united team, the source said.
It’s the closest they would come to criticizing Weaver’s role in the party, which could at times be either a blessing or a curse.
Many in the party give Weaver credit for the role he played as the first Green elected to a provincial legislature in Canada and the credibility he brought as a leading climate scientist. Like Elizabeth May federally, he had a personal story and qualities that helped him gain public attention and break new ground for the party.
But after the party’s caucus grew to three MLAs in the 2017 election, there were times when his style was seen as too freewheeling and there was a feeling he ignored the requirements of working as part of a team.
There have long been stories of Weaver being thin-skinned, letting ego get in the way of good decision-making, burning bridges with potential allies and acting on whims. Frequently staff had to walk back things he’d said on topics like Site C, the housing speculation tax or Green party candidate diversity.
Even in announcing Wednesday that he would sit as an Independent after Jan. 20 Weaver managed to pre-empt the party, releasing his own statement before its announcement.
Weaver said it made sense to leave the party during the race to replace him.
“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 would “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,” he added.
Weaver announced Oct. 7 that he would step down as leader and not run in the next election. He also cut back on party commitments while suffering from labyrinthitis, an inner ear inflammation that can be caused by a virus and is sometimes associated with stress.
Weaver also said Wednesday that he intends to return to work as a professor at the University of Victoria when he finishes his term as MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head.
Weaver was unavailable for an interview.
A separate announcement from the party made it clear the decision to sit as an Independent was Weaver’s, though it quoted interim leader Adam Olsen, the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, saying the party supports the move.
“The BC Green party’s work these past years to begin to reduce partisan polarization from our political discourse and restore the public’s trust has been demanding, and because of this we recognize that a person’s commitment to their family needs to come before those to their caucus,” Olsen said.
Matt Toner is a Vancouver tech entrepreneur and former NDP candidate who joined the Green party in 2015. He served as deputy leader until the end of 2017 and was part of the backroom negotiating team when the Greens reached an agreement with the NDP that allowed the latter to form government.
“I think today’s announcement caught some people by surprise,” Toner said.
Weaver was always a reluctant politician, so it made sense when he said he was stepping down as leader and wouldn’t run again, Toner said.
But his decision to sit as an Independent is “a bit more perplexing,” he added.
Toner said the move might give Weaver more freedom to speak his mind without having to consider the needs or positions of the party. It frees him to speak about the leadership race, while also making room for others in the party to step up, he said. “It is a changing of the guard.”
The Green party’s challenge between now and the next election will be differentiating itself from the NDP government that it’s supporting in the legislature, Toner said, something that could be awkward for Weaver. “The next battle’s coming and he may not want to take part in the next battle for all kinds of reasons.”
Toner said it is an interesting time for Greens with leadership positions open both in B.C. and in the federal party. He wasn’t ready to announce any intentions, but said he has struck an exploratory committee to consider his options.
Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau is widely expected to announce in the next few weeks that she’s seeking the B.C. leadership and Jonina Campbell, who ran in New Westminster in 2017, is also reportedly considering entering the race.
B.C. Green members will decide on the next leader at a convention scheduled for June in Nanaimo.
Read more: BC Politics