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Year-End Interview: Weaver Looking for Action from NDP in Budget

Green leader on New Democrats’ record, Site C, electoral reform and more.

By Andrew MacLeod 21 Dec 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

Asked what stories have been underreported in British Columbia politics this year, Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver points to the need for a better understanding of his party’s relationship to the governing NDP.

“I think that, in general, the legislative press gallery seem to confuse a coalition versus minority government,” Weaver said in a year-end interview that covered the recent decision to continue building the Site C dam on the Peace River, why the coming referendum on electoral reform doesn’t excite him, and what more he hopes to see from the government his party is enabling.

The three Green MLAs agreed in June to support an NDP minority government on confidence measures, but they are not in a coalition with the NDP. That leaves Weaver and his colleagues free to criticize the government, something he says they can do without bringing the government down, even if the media sometimes miss the nuance.

“We hear a lot about when there’s some clash because clash is conflict, conflict sells papers,” he said. “We don’t hear a lot about all the good work that is done... To me there’s been a ton of good work done here, with parties working together.”

Weaver acknowledged, however, that he’d done his part to fuel the conflict stories.

“Well, of course, we disagree. If we disagree it’s conflict,” he said. “Our job in opposition is to frame public opinion along the ways we believe are the policy direction the government should go. And government will respond broadly to public opinion.”

With the Greens holding the balance of power in the Legislature, what Weaver says matters a great deal and draws significant attention from both the media and his political opponents.

The Tyee: After the Site C announcement, both Premier John Horgan and interim Liberal leader Rich Coleman were reminding people of your past support of the project. What did you make of that?

Andrew Weaver: I believe it was 2010 that I was up there with Gordon Campbell... We have to go back and also look at why I’ve been speaking out since 2013... In the early 2000s, the price tag for Site C was something like $2 billion. In 2010... the price tag then was between $5 and $6 billion. Two years later it was $7.9 billion and then it went to $8.3 billion and then it went to $8.7 billion. Then it went to the BCUC to $10 billion. And then it’s now $10.7 billion.

At the same time, the price of wind dropped 66 per cent and the price of solar dropped 68 per cent... The problem is BC Hydro demand has been flat, and it’s been flat because of sad things going on in the forest sector, mills shutting down etcetera and less demand. The problem is going forward with Site C is fiscally reckless. The reason why it’s going to cost the taxpayer or the ratepayer between $12 and $15 billion. I’ve been saying that for four years.

It’s the effects that it’s having on the clean energy sector that is troubling me... There’s now no room for the distributed renewable producers of energy. Those that started to get going, who’ve invested money here in partnership with First Nations across British Columbia that are part of the new economy, that actually create long paying stable jobs all over the place... We’ve killed this industry in B.C. The approach here is to spend taxpayer dollars to underwrite a mega-project from the 1950s era as opposed to allow industry to put venture capital money in and risk that capital to produce power in a cheaper way in partnership with communities all over B.C.

So, when they imply you’re being opportunistic on it, how do you respond?

They can say what they want. I stood alone in the B.C. Legislature in 2013 and I have said the same thing ever since then, just like I said on LNG too. The only reason we’re building Site C is because the BC Liberals wanted to actually give LNG companies a sweet deal in terms of trying to attract them here and they had contracts for 5.3-cents-a-kilowatt-hour electricity. But those companies like Petronas that had these deals have walked. So now we’re still building a project to deliver power for LNG companies that don’t exist. This is what’s going on here in B.C. and they can say whatever they want, but the facts are the facts... The reality is it’s not opportunistic at all, it’s principled. And it’s been principled based on evidence since day one. And the evidence has only supported that case more and more as the price of wind and solar continue to drop and the price of Site C is now $10.7 billion.

How long do you expect the agreement with the NDP to last?

We’re under the expectation that it will go the full term until four years. I think people want us to govern. It’s not as if we sit there together and sing “Kumbaya” all the time. We are different parties... In a minority government we agree that it’s very important for us to maintain our distinct identities.

It’s an obvious question, but why is it important to distinguish your party from the NDP?

In another election, we want people to know we can work with other parties, but we have different values. We disagree on some things, we agree on others, and let them decide who they want to elect.

Rich Coleman suggests you shouldn’t have aligned with anyone, you should have voted issue by issue…

How does that work? That means basically the Liberals should remain in power? What they would have done was waited until such time they felt it was time to call an election to get a majority government. That’s what they wanted.

What would you point to for things the government has gotten right?

Banning big money at all levels of politics. Both of us campaigned on it. Not everything was done exactly as we would have liked, but we worked very closely together on that and we’re pleased with the outcome. Re-instituting funds for Adult Basic Education. We both campaigned on that. We agreed totally with that. There’s the lobbyists registration legislation. We agree with the bits that they have done, but there’s more coming and we’ve got agreement that some of our amendments will be introduced directly in legislation in the fall.

And what about electoral reform?

All there is, is a referendum on it... There’s a lot of hullabaloo out there, but this is a referendum and we’re just participating like everyone else in providing information to the Attorney General’s office so they can get the question that they want in a fashion out to people... It’s not something that the average person sitting at home worrying about paying the mortgage and getting their kids to day care, if they can find childcare, who are struggling to make ends meet, busy as heck, they don’t spend a lot of time over dinner conversation talking about proportional representation. It’s a very important issue for a lot of political pundits, also for people who spend time who really follow political systems, the purists out there, it’s their number one issue. I care a lot about the issues that affect people. It’s why affordability is one I’ve been pushing in question period on. It’s something I think the NDP have failed on so far.

It seems like you’re downplaying the referendum. Are you hoping for a low turnout, which might make it more likely to pass, or something?

I would love to see a 90 per cent turnout because then we’d get the system people want. I’d love a high turnout. I’m not downplaying it. It doesn’t excite me... Obviously, it had to be one of our top things that we got agreement on with the other party, it’s who the BC Greens are. Every Green party everywhere in the world has participatory democracy as one of their guiding principles, so we made it as a top priority that a referendum would be there... I’m the type of person who likes to get stuff done. I’m not the type of person who likes to talk about the way it’s going to get done. Just get it done. And proportional representation is a process thing. It’s very important for democracy, and it’s critical for most people, and I totally support this referendum. I’m looking forward to campaigning for it, but it’s not something I’m spending all my time on.

The basic income pilot you were pushing for is in the agreement with the NDP. What’s the update on it?

What I can say is we’ve had meetings. We believe that we’re going to see something, we hope, in February about a way forward with this. I’m not sure that everyone’s going to be thrilled with this. I will say that we think it’s a good way forward. What we’re taking a look at now is what’s been going on very, very recently in Quebec. Quebec’s just gone through this big analysis, so we’ve had some discussions about best practices in other jurisdictions. Our goal is there still to have a formal implementation of a pilot project ASAP. My expectation is we’ll probably have a pathway to get to that rather than have that right up front. And I’m OK with that. The goal is still there and it will happen hopefully in this term... People joke that the NDP like to study stuff. Sometimes it’s actually good to get your homework done, and so in this case I think you’ll see a homework gathering exercise first and we’ll be supportive of that.

If it’s a pilot project, wouldn’t that itself be a way to gather evidence?

What we’ve been discussing is what is the target group. What is the purpose of introducing it, are you trying to deal with poverty, trying to deal with the gig economy or both? I can say that I believe we have a shared idea that we have to both deal with the poverty reduction aspect of it as well as the gig economy.

Why have you been critical of $10-a-day childcare?

I’m critical of campaigning on a slogan, and that has always been our position... When you start to talk about the values and importance of an approach to universal day care, we support that, we campaigned on that. It’s when you start to preclude the outcome and you start campaigning on a slogan that we have problems with... We campaigned on a much more aggressive approach to the implementation of childcare. It’s very healthy discussions that are going on now.

And the Hydro rate freeze?

Completely opposed to that. We didn’t actually get a Hydro rate freeze. This is how crazy it is and we spoke out quite strongly about this… BC Hydro was instructed to request from the BCUC a rate freeze but the province wasn’t going to interfere with the BCUC decision. Well hang on there. That to me is not going to be a rate freeze if you do that, because BCUC went through a very extensive process to approve this year’s three-per-cent rate increase. They would have to now hear from BC Hydro why their arguments were in error previously and what is new with their financial situation that undermines their previous case to argue for a three-per-cent increase. The only argument is ‘we’ve been told to do this,’ which is a government decree... They want their cake and eat it too. They want to respect the independence of the BCUC process, and freeze rate hikes. Well you can’t have it both ways. We think freezing the rates was reckless anyways.

So, you think rates should go up?

I think to the three per cent that’s already been approved. That has already been approved through the BCUC process that was so important to the NDP to keep independent from. So I think that three per cent is important, yes. It had been approved through due process and just saying “a rate freeze” is just another election gimmick to buy votes... Campaigning on gimmicks does not lead to good public policy.

This is probably a good point to bring up the proposed renters’ rebate…

Again, this is a gimmick. We’re going to give every renter $400... We have the exact same shared values of the importance of helping people afford rent. We know there is a crisis going on and we’ve been pushing that in the legislature to try to get the BC NDP now to start to implement policies on the demand side to restrict the speculative marketplace which leads to zero per cent vacancy rates, empty homes and the problems arising. We’re told something’s coming in February. We hope that we see that... Put that money into the existing [rental supplement] programs. We’d be supportive of that… We want to see a needs-based approach and use existing programs so we’re not creating more administration.

How quickly should B.C. move to a $15 minimum wage?

I’m leaving that up to the fair wage commission. We never campaigned on a number. We felt it was important to get politics out of this decision-making process. Which is why we campaigned on bringing in a fair wage commission, mirroring what they do from Australia. And why the number 15? It’s another slogan. Why not 17? Why not 21? Why not a living wage? Get politics out of the minimum wage setting and let’s hear from the experts.

We talked about a few things the government’s gotten wrong, including Site C. Is there anything else you want to highlight?

Hydro rate freeze, removing [bridge] tolls. I wouldn’t say they’ve gotten it wrong yet. They have yet to act on the affordability issue. I take some comfort in that I’ve had extensive discussions with the finance minister about the importance of this. We are prepared of course to wait to see what we see emerge in the February budget, the argument being these are budgetary issues... We’ve been promised we’re going to see some good things. We don’t know what they are... Prior to the Site C decision, I would have said my own personal opinion on the government’s performance was an A. It was actually a high A. Site C decision knocks that down and I would give them a B-plus now. B-plus is still a solid grade... Nowhere near a failing grade.

What would be a good gift for you this season?

A political gift would be another MLA from Kelowna West. It would be a lovely gift. I’d like another half dozen Hawaii shirts, frankly... If I’m there I buy them, but I needed to refresh the wardrobe, so I just had a batch come in recently. A batch of four, ordered online from RJC.

Like the one you’re wearing today.

You should be who you are. I believe in respect for the institution, so if I’m in the Ledge when the Ledge is sitting, obviously I’m wearing suit and tie, and if I go to a function, obviously I’m dressed appropriately. But I think it’s artificial for me to portray who I am in a way that I’m not, so I dress the way I enjoy dressing. I believe you should be authentic. What you see is what you get with me. It’s one of my strengths, one of my weaknesses.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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