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Adriane Carr’s March up the Green Road

BC Greens leader works overtime for a breakthrough. Just don’t call her a spoiler.

By Cathryn Atkinson 7 Apr 2005 |

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Adriane Carr wants in. The Green Party Leader is pumped up and prepared for May’s provincial election, both on her own behalf as the candidate for Powell River-Sunshine Coast, and as mentor for the MLA hopefuls representing the Greens in every British Columbian riding.

She's bright, expectant and ready to serve. Is there a problem then?

Yes. Carr and her party are considered by the status quo—especially in the media—to be the third runner in a two-horse race between Carole James’ NDP and Premier Gordon Campbell’s Liberal incumbents. The lack of exposure, as felt from her side, is palpable. Out of sight is very much out of mind in terms of voter awareness.

Some also speculate that she is a possible spoiler for the NDP, potentially wrecking their triumphant return to power, as opposed to being the head of a political party with differing policies and its own right to exist.

Both the Liberals and the NDP may have credibility problems in some quarters due to past performances while in office, but they are undoubtedly taken more seriously than the Greens in many quarters. A March 17 Ipsos-Reid poll gave the Liberals 46 per cent, the NDP 39 per cent, and the Green Party 12 per cent.

Carr’s inclusion in an upcoming leadership debate should serve to put her and her party in the public eye. She also speaks well of local newspapers, which have done much to bring her message home.

A fast talker who struggles to be heard

She is more than busy. She and her husband Paul George, founder of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, are clocking 80-hour weeks all over B.C., balanced out by trips home to Powell River, where she ran and lost the last election to Liberal candidate Harold Long, tying then NDP forests minister Gordon Wilson with 27 percent of the vote.

When she is in one location she tries to pack in as much as possible, since the Greens do not have the budget for travel the other two parties enjoy. She agreed to an interview at UBC Robson Square just before going into a Sierra Club meeting and sits outside the lecture room, nursing a 9 a.m. coffee.

Carr has already been up for five hours and her sharpness is somewhere in the middle of the afternoon. It seems as though she is able to get more information out per volume of breath exhaled than any other politician on the circuit. All a night-owl journalist can to do keep up is ensure the tape recorder is working.

We glance at the Vancouver Sun’s coverage of The Green Party in the day’s paper: a two by two inch statistics box outlining their polling percentages, buried in the Westcoast News section. The peaks and troughs of Green support, no analysis. A pimple of information, hardly worth squeezing.

"We were at 19 points [in the polls] in September 2002 and March 2003 and it was all about coverage we got on two issues," Carr says. "I stepped back from the leadership from January to August 2002 and took on the initiative for proportional representation [which has culminated in a referendum question to be decided on May 17]."

And the spike in support for the Greens in March 2003 she attributes to the local referendum on the Olympics. Carr was active on the "No" side.

"It wasn’t a good time to do the Olympics because we were closing hospitals and schools," she says, adding "the provincial taxpayer writes the cheques, but the referendum was only in Vancouver."

Views forged at Clayoquot

Carr was born in Vancouver in 1952, the middle child of three. She grew up in the Kootenays, her family living Cranbrook and Nelson, where she fell in love with the surrounding wilderness.

Her family moved to Burnaby in time for her to start high school. She attended Burnaby North, where she was on the debating team with Svend Robinson. She laughs at the memory: "I always did enjoy his company. We were in a bunch of clubs together."

Carr, an accomplished pianist with ARCT teaching credentials which helped pay her way through university, took BA and MA degrees in geography at UBC. She taught at Langara College for 12 years, where she headed the Department in Interdisciplinary Studies.

She met her husband while working on the international campaign and sustainability issues for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee. During this period, Carr was perhaps best know for her efforts to help resolve the conflict over the pristine watershed at Clayoquot Sound, which finally ended in June 1999, after 20 years. Carr burst into tears when her turn came to sign the agreement.

Having to develop a working relationship with business people, such MacMillan Bloedel’s Linda Coady during the Clayoquot negotiations taught Carr that "there are solutions to problems."

"For the most part, solutions get blocked due to lack of information or misinformation," she said. "People tend to think that those on the opposite side from them are entrenched in their position, but it’s usually a myth.

"I’ll never forget walking into the IWA union office in Ucluelet and telling them: ‘the environmental groups are not talking about shutting down logging. It’s about finding a way to create and sustain jobs that isn’t going to come at the cost of harming the natural environment. They will support some logging done right.’”

"’I can’t believe it,’ he said. I said: ‘Believe it.’ They wanted good and decent work, but not to trade off with the health of the environment for that. They wanted jobs to last so their children can have jobs."

Carr and George have two children: a daughter, who at 21 is a published children’s author and is graduating from UBC with an English degree, and a son, 17, still in high school. Both are helping Carr with her campaign.

Her interest in their future is key to her commitment to the B.C. Green Party, which she co-founded in 1983. She became leader by universal ballot in 2000.

Falling out with NDP

For Carr, the Green Party, started partly as a response to the behaviour of the NDP in the early 80s, and one incident in particular. She refers to it as "pivotal" to her leaving the NDP for good.

"It really was bitter disappointment with the NDP," she says. "I had been lobbying for a particular [land-use] resolution at the annual general meeting. I was there because they were the alternative to the Socreds and there was a chance that they would get elected."

"The troops sent me in to do the negotiating on an emergency resolution on this issue. I got a really good spot on the list of resolutions for the next day," she says.

But when she returned in the morning "somebody within the party had switched it so that my resolution that I got up so high was way down on the list. So I said ‘how did this happen? I was at all of the sessions.’” Carr’s voice drops to an outraged whisper. "No-one could tell me. And at that moment I realized that the NDP were not very democratic."

In the end, the motion wasn’t debated.

"People said to me, ‘Don’t worry, the environment will come up at the next convention or the one after.’ And I thought, ‘Holy crow, here’s a party that looks at environmental issues as something that comes up once every three years.’ This is foolish. This not the party that can be an alternative, they’re just on a slower track than the Socreds."

And now? Could the Greens and the NDP work together?

Carr says she is willing but not able, as the NDP are not interested. The NDP, she says, see the Greens as a thorn in their side because "we force them to look at environmental issues seriously."

"In the last four years I have reached out to the NDP, and we would always be willing to co-operate, though we wouldn’t back down on who we are as a party," says Carr. "Joy MacPhail and I were on a platform, and when she was asked about it by someone in the audience, she said, ‘No, no, no.’"

Greens from left, right and young

Despite an obvious desire to win seats, Carr refuses to predict the outcome. In the last election, 12 Green candidates came second in their constituencies, and she believes this can be bettered.

On the other hand, Carr’s Greens fared poorly in their latest test, the byelection in Surrey-Panorama Ridge, where Carr ran and lost, gaining a smaller percentage of votes than the Green candidate attracted in that riding in 2001.

"It’s in the hands of the voters. All you can do is work hard, run a competitive campaign, and put your heart and soul into building a voter coalition. We don’t have the money that the other parties do so it’s hard. But we have talented people and a fabulous platform."

Carr is proud to add that her voter base is developing from across the traditional political divide. See an earlier related Tyee story here.

"Our party draws support from all corners. About 40 per cent of our support is considered to be left-of-centre by our polling, about 30 per cent is right-of-centre -- the Green Tories. Fiscal conservatives, but green thinking. About 30 percent of our support comes from youth who are so disenchanted that if we weren’t on the ballot they wouldn’t vote."

Along with the May 17 election, the referendum on Electoral Reform could have an impact on the Green Party’s fortunes. If passed, the referendum— which would produce largely proportional results in provincial elections—would almost guarantee the Greens legislative seats in Victoria the next time around.

Cathryn Atkinson is a Vancouver based journalist.  [Tyee]

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