Opinion

Not Easy Being Green? Examining the Party’s Contradictions

From lack of ‘concern’ about Liberal re-election to campaign finance, I ask them the tough questions.

By Bill Tieleman 25 Apr 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose clients include unions and businesses in the resource and public sector. Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. Email him at weststar@telus.net see Twitter @BillTieleman or visit his blog.

“I’m not concerned about Christy Clark getting back in.” — Green Party campaign chair Adam Olsen on vote-splitting with the NDP

It’s not easy being Green — especially you are under serious scrutiny for the first time and a lot of surprising contradictions and hypocrisy come to light.

Do the Green Party and leader Andrew Weaver really want to see Premier Christy Clark’s BC Liberals thrown out of office? In addition to Olsen’s comment this month, Weaver voted for two BC Liberal budgets and voiced a robocall 2009 election endorsement of the BC Liberals.

Would the Greens actually restrict currently unlimited foreign political donations when Weaver was personally soliciting them on Facebook last year? Or ban corporate donations after accepting $54,000 from businesses in 2013 but now rejecting them?

Why did climate change scientist Weaver offer qualified support for an oil refinery in Kitimat to process Alberta oil sands bitumen transported there by pipeline to then go by tankers to Asia?

And why didn’t Weaver support a treatment project to end dumping raw sewage off Victoria’s coast? Or back the Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council public transit plan in the 2015 plebiscite?

So I put tough questions to the Green Party, and to their credit they responded quickly and without rancour — but voters must judge if their answers satisfy.

Start with Olsen’s comment he is not worried about Clark being re-elected. On Twitter, Olsen responded to my tweet citing his quote above:

“Quote is out of context of the question that was asked. I am deeply critical of the BC Liberals and concerned about their re-election.”

I reject that claim.

Here’s Vancouver Sun reporter Brian Morton’s question and Olsen’s full answer: “Asked if he believed a Green surge might split the anti-Liberal vote and re-elect the Liberals, Olsen said: ‘I’m not concerned about Christy Clark getting back in. Democracy requires a multitude of voices and ideas.’”

Seems pretty clear to me — Olsen only became “concerned” when called out on Twitter.

Olsen also said on Twitter that: “Q [question] about ‘vote-splitting’ I’m not responsible for other Parties success or failure at the polls - Greens are good for our democracy.”

And the Green Party replied to my question about whether it and Olsen were “not concerned about Christy Clark getting back in” by stating: “We agree with Adam that democracy requires a multitude of voices.

“The vote of the people of British Columbia belongs to them, not any particular political party. Our aim is to give people something to vote for, not against. Any number of scenarios could play out on May 9 — including a minority government or a BC Green majority. We remain focused on our policies and vision for the future of British Columbia.”

Again, while it’s hard to disagree on some “isn’t democracy grand” statements, I don’t see anything saying, “Clark must go.”

I also asked about Weaver’s closeness to the BC Liberals, voting for their first two budgets this term and endorsing them with this recorded message sent to Victoria-Beacon Hill voters in 2009 in an effort to defeat then BC NDP leader Carole James:

“My name is Andrew Weaver... I endorse premier Campbell and the BC Liberals for their courage in fighting global warming… and I strongly urge you to vote for Dallas Henault, your local BC Liberal candidate… Let’s re-elect the BC Liberals….”

The Green Party answer, conveyed by press secretary Jillian Oliver, is:

“It is well known that Andrew worked on Gordon Campbell’s climate leadership team that was responsible for introducing the first Climate Action Plan into BC. In 2009, when Carole James ran on ‘axe the tax’ to end the carbon tax, Andrew felt as a climate scientist he had to do his part and support the only government that was proposing real action on climate change,” the Greens say.

“Andrew voted for the first two Liberal budgets because he committed to doing so during his campaign, and he believes that leaders should keep their promises. He has voted with the NDP far more often that he has voted with the Liberals and believes that MLAs should always vote based on their conscience, not politics,” the party concluded.

I’m not sure where to start in disagreeing with this response, but one obvious point is that Campbell’s BC Liberals dramatically expanded fish farms, slashed wildlife protection, ended the grizzly bear hunting ban, privatized rivers and streams for power projects and gutted the environment ministry budget.

If the Greens’ only issue was getting a small and ineffective carbon tax, so be it, but if the overall environment was a concern, the BC Liberals were public enemy number one — and Weaver still endorsed their horrible record.

Let’s get to bitumen and businessman David Black’s proposal to build an oil refinery in Kitimat.

Weaver said in 2014 that he would take a pragmatic approach — one that says while his first preference was to leave Alberta oil sands bitumen in the ground, “the Green Party as a science-based, evidence-based common sense party. It’s a party that realizes that we need gasoline in our cars but we also need to have a strategy to wean ourselves off that.”

“Rail is bad news, dilbit in the water is bad news, dilbit on land over rivers and streams is potentially very bad news,” Weaver told the Victoria Times-Colonist. “Obviously as the Green Party [MLA], I’d prefer to keep it in the ground as much as possible and start to invest sooner than later into the low-carbon economy of tomorrow, but I’m pragmatic and I recognize at some point one may need to develop a compromise and a compromise solution is one that would actually give jobs in B.C.”

Personally, I don’t disagree — but I’m not the Green Party leader who campaigns energetically against Kinder Morgan and liquefied natural gas and other fossil fuel projects, support a much higher carbon tax, etc., but can also accept a bitumen pipeline and an oil refinery and tankers carrying its products to Asia. That’s a touch too hypocritical for me.

The Green Party doesn’t share my view.

“The BC Green Party does not endorse the Kitimat refinery, and neither does Andrew Weaver. Andrew is a scientist and he knows, as any reasonable person does, that the oil sands cannot be shut down overnight,” the party replied.

“The next-best option is anyone that provides the maximum economic benefit to support the health and wellbeing of British Columbians. Furthermore, Andrew never stated that he supported the refinery, rather, he was making a point that if the Christy Clark government did really care about jobs, they would be advocating for refineries rather than the Kinder Morgan pipeline,” it states.

Hmmm. The newspaper headline, admittedly not written by Weaver, said: “Green MLA Andrew Weaver backs David Black’s refinery proposal.”

But it’s Weaver’s own direct quotes that led the editor to write that headline, statements like this about Black: “I think he’s done this for the right reasons,” Weaver said. “He’s a B.C. boy and he wants to keep dilbit out of coastal waters because it’s nasty stuff.”

Let’s move on — to changing political financing laws in what the New York Times called “the Wild West” — where foreign nationals can donate unlimited amounts of money to any B.C. political party. Weaver has demanded changes to ban that practice as well as stopping corporate and union donations, as has the New Democratic Party.

“B.C. must stop selling out to corporate and foreign interests that have exploited the province’s resources and left our cities unaffordable,” Weaver said in March.

But on his personal Facebook page on Feb. 15, 2016, Weaver made this appeal for foreign money: “A fundraising plea for the 2017 campaign... My friends anywhere in the world can donate any amount of money any time. We do not have restrictions in BC on out of province donations.

“Nor is there a restriction on the maximum you can donate if you are a Canadian resident. Thank you in advance for considering this. Please also tell your friends and relatives that now is a truly incredible time for us to change politics forever in this province. Thank you. Andrew.”

Hypocritical? Unbelievably so. The Green Party response?

If elected to form government, the Green Party would ban out of province donations, it said. “The proportion of our donations that come from out-of-province is very small,” it added.

If Weaver had not repeatedly ripped the BC NDP for not agreeing to unilateral disarm against a BC Liberal Party that raised $16 million last year, most of it corporate and a considerable amount foreign, his own appeal might not seem so offensive.

But Weaver’s holier than thou public statements contradict his private appeals for foreign donations.

And ironically it was the BC Liberals who called Weaver out on his statements, with campaign director Laura Miller posting his Facebook appeal on Twitter.

Weaver’s response to Miller: “that’s my private Facebook page to my personal friends.”

Yeah, right — that makes it all okay if it’s between close foreign friends.

In a similar vein, Weaver is making hay out of the Green Party decision to no longer accept corporate or union donations — and damning the NDP for not doing the same, even though it would again be unilateral disarmament against a powerful BC Liberal Party.

So, I asked, will the Green Party return the more than $54,000 in corporate donations received in 2013?

The short answer: “None of that money is being used for the 2017 campaign.”

Of course not — it was already spent.

Back to the environment. Why doesn’t Weaver support the federal government plan for a treatment plan in Victoria to end the dumping of raw sewage out of a pipeline into the ocean?

In 2014 Weaver said: “There’s no social license for the present plan. They’ve lost the public trust on this.”

The Green response: “The proposed plant was too costly for too little benefit. Smaller scale projects are possible that would cost less but do more to address Victoria’s sewage treatment needs.”

Perhaps, but three years later and Victoria is only now about to see construction of a $765-million wastewater treatment plant after years of delay thanks to naysayers.

If not advocating for immediate sewage treatment, surely Weaver got behind the Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council plan to dramatically improve public transit in the 2015 regional plebiscite? Err — no he didn’t.

Weaver did not endorse the “Yes” side in the plebiscite even though Green Party Vancouver city councilor Adriane Carr and other Greens did, along with labour, business, health, student and community groups.

Weaver did say at the end of a long blog post: “Finally, as I wrote in the article in February, if I lived in Vancouver, I would vote ‘Yes.’ I would do so reluctantly. I would do so begrudgingly. And I would do so frustratedly, knowing that my provincial government had abdicated its leadership responsibility.”

While I agree that the campaign — which I worked on for my clients in public transit — had the odds stacked against it by the BC Liberals from the start, leadership means standing up for what’s right, against those odds, and joining with those who support public transit, not sitting on the sidelines.

The Green Party reply: “Andrew has stated that the referendum was a vote on the leadership of TransLink, not the transit needs of Metro Vancouverites. He believes that the Christy Clark government was shirking its responsibility to provide necessary infrastructure to Metro Vancouver by holding a politically motivated referendum.

“As such, he could not support the concept of the referendum at all, so he opted to stay out of it completely out of principle, because he believed that the Mayor’s transit plan should have been a no-brainer.”

So if Weaver and the Green Party don’t stand for some things because they don’t like the question or the plan or the odds, what do they believe in?

One of the Green Party candidates — Robert Mellalieu in Kelowna-West — states on the party website that: “I was always a Conservative (B.C. Liberal). I thought the right wing is where business owners belong. So I fully expected my son to come to the ‘right’ conclusion.”

“To my amazement, he picked the Green Party. I questioned him on the economics, on the future goals, long term plans, for hours. He was right. It took a 16-year-old with the unbiased view of the world to show me that I was a Green,” Mellalieu concluded.

That led me to ask where the Greens stand on the political spectrum — are candidates like Mellalieu, a former federal Conservative and BC Liberal, right-wing or not?

The Green answer: “BC Greens all share common values, based on our 6 principles — participatory democracy, sustainability, social justice, respect for diversity, ecological wisdom and non-violence.

“As a party, all of our decision-making is based on these core concepts. We reject the notion that British Columbians can so easily be divided into left versus right on a clear-cut spectrum. We believe in considering diverse view points and working together to implement policies that promote policies that advance these principles,” the party answered.

Okay, sounds pretty good on the surface.

But how does a federal Conservative/BC Liberal supporter who presumably had some idea about ex-Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s anti-environmental practices or ex-BC Liberal premier Gordon Campbell’s refusal to increase disability benefits or the minimum wage for 10 years suddenly become a Green Party candidate whom we are asked to believe is now an advocate for social justice and ecological wisdom?

I don’t doubt Mellalieu’s sincerity, but I do question where he now stands on a whole bunch of issues, and I’m not yet convinced his epiphany changed past strongly held right-wing convictions.

And so it goes. A Green Party led by Weaver is by all accounts in third place across B.C. and support may be rising on Vancouver Island and Metro Vancouver to levels that could either split the anti-BC Liberal vote or elect a few MLAs — or both.

Weaver and the Greens are running hard to win more seats — and voters should take an equally hard look at their contradictions — and the possible consequences of voting Green.  [Tyee]

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