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BC Politics

Sonia Furstenau Wins BC Green Leadership as Election Speculation Grows

Current MLA announced as winner, urges NDP not to call an early election.

Paul Willcocks 14 Sep 2020 |

Paul Willcocks is a journalist and former publisher of newspapers, and now an editor with The Tyee.

Newly-elected BC Green Leader Sonia Furstenau is urging NDP Premier John Horgan not to call a fall election that could turn into a fight for her party’s life.

Furstenau, a Green MLA since 2017, emerged as the party’s new leader today. She defeated environmental lawyer and community organizer Cam Brewer on the second ballot, capturing 2,428 votes to Brewer’s 2,127. Kim Darwin, an entrepreneur and Green candidate in 2017, was eliminated on the first ballot with 521 votes.

Furstenau said her election was “a symbol of something different in politics.”

And she spent much of her first speech calling on Horgan to reject the idea of “a completely unnecessary, irresponsible election.”

“You have a responsibility to govern, not play politics,” Furstenau said.

British Columbians are facing overlapping crises, she said, as COVID-19 and the overdose emergency claim lives, children and families struggle with a return to school and smoke-filled skies demonstrate the urgency of tackling climate change.

Furstenau addressed Horgan directly in her speech.

“This is not the time to dissolve government for a month in the hopes of securing more power for yourself,” she said. “Do not succumb to the old way of doing politics... put the people you serve ahead of your self-interest.”

The Greens’ co-operation agreement with the NDP, which allowed Horgan to form government, is supposed to run until Oct. 21, 2021, the next “fixed” election date. It includes a clause that says Horgan “will not request a dissolution of the legislature during the term of this agreement, except following the defeat of a motion of confidence.”

But there’s growing speculation that Horgan will call an election anyway — perhaps within weeks — in hopes of winning a majority government. The NDP and BC Liberals currently each hold 41 seats in the 85-seat legislation, with the two Green MLAs supporting the New Democrats on major issues.

The New Democrats have opened up a huge poll lead over the struggling BC Liberals, in part based on approval for their response to the pandemic.

An Angus Reid poll released Sept. 4 found 48 per cent of B.C. residents had decided or were leaning toward voting for the NDP, with the BC Liberals at 29 per cent and the Greens at 14 per cent.

That’s a major swing from the 2017 election, when the BC Liberals and the New Democrats were effectively tied at 40 per cent and the Greens were at 17 per cent.

If the support levels held, the NDP would cruise to a strong majority government. The Greens would face a struggle to hold onto the three seats they won in 2017 under former leader Andrew Weaver.

Horgan dodged a question from reporters today about whether he planned to call a fall election.

Furstenau, a former teacher and regional district director, ran on a leadership platform that included calls for improved protection for workers and a shorter work week, a green industrial strategy, stronger environmental protection developed with First Nations and action on climate change.

“The air that has been choking us has been reminding us climate change is here and hurting,” she said.

And she promised to push for action on food security, greater inclusiveness and measures to deal with the overdose crisis, including decriminalization of drug possession and more mental health supports.

In her acceptance speech, Furstenau said the Greens stand for a new way of doing politics. “The political structures we have in place reinforce hyperpartisanship,” she said, pointing to the possible election call as an example of that kind of approach.

She promised to make inequality a focus, noting people’s “great frustration” as billionaires grow even richer during the pandemic while many people struggle to get by.

Furstenau, MLA for Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, also pointed to achievements that she said showed the success of the Greens’ co-operation with the NDP.

The party’s efforts had played a role in banning big money from politics, reforming lobbying laws, improving child welfare systems and holding government to account on fracking, she said.

Furstenau talked about the challenges she has faced as a woman in politics and noted only one of Canada’s territorial and provincial premiers is a woman.

“It’s disheartening, but it strengthens my belief that to achieve lasting outcomes in good ways we must increase diversity in who we elect, and we must work across party lines and across jurisdictions.”  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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