With less than a week to go before Tuesday’s election, a reporter for B.C.’s most watched TV newscast asked Green Party leader Andrew Weaver which leader — BC Liberal Christy Clark or the NDP’s John Horgan — he’d feel most comfortable working with post-election.
Weaver could have repeated past talking points about how the BC Liberals under Clark were terrible on climate change and sellouts to special interests. The NDP’s positions on both those, and other issues, are closer to the Green platform. Few would have been surprised if he’d said Horgan.
Instead Weaver waffled for a while — and then elected to scold Horgan the man, saying “he’s got to control his temper.” He then spoke approvingly of Clark, with whom, Weaver claims, “you can have a respectful disagreement in a one-on-one conversation and it’s not personal.”
Weaver’s attack on Horgan was quite personal. And his choosing to praise Clark’s demeanour rather than critique her party’s 16-year record doesn’t jibe with the image many voters have of the Green Party as the renegade, even radical, response to business as usual in B.C.
After all, however nice she might be to talk to, no one stands for business as usual more starkly than Christy Clark.
So what’s Weaver’s game? Why would he signal to voters that his party is more in synch with the BC Liberals than the NDP?
Why, for example, did he fly to the defence of Clark last May in the legislature as she faced NDP accusations she was wrong to accept a $50,000 salary “top-up” taken from political donations she helped wangle? Weaver could have previewed his party’s platform by emphasizing to every voter sick of B.C.’s “Wild West” pay-for-play politics that his Greens, too, stood for change. He could have fortified the opposition. Instead he divided it.
That day Weaver played protector to Clark, and made it personal, again, about the NDP. The premier should be paid more, he said. To argue otherwise was sexist, he said, and the NDP was motivated by “hatred” rather than honest concerns on behalf of the public, Weaver argued.
In the end, the NDP proved more in touch with the public mood than Weaver. Under pressure, Clark gave up her $50,000 bonus.
But both Weaver and Clark, no doubt high-fiving over their accomplishment, opted not to address the main focus of the Tyee series. Namely, that women servers are more vulnerable to sexual harassment on the job because the BC Liberals allowed employers to pay less than the minimum wage, which makes servers dependent on tips from ill-behaving customers and good shifts from bosses. So Weaver and Clark helped each other look proactive on a social injustice, while the resulting bill left the root cause unaddressed.
And on May 4 Weaver told a radio interviewer he’d be open to taking a cabinet position in the next government, even if it’s the Christy Clark-led BC Liberals. For her part, Clark has said, “I have a joy working with Dr. Weaver.”
This synchronicity between Weaver’s Greens and Clark’s BC Liberals is intriguing, given what Weaver said during the 2013 campaign. The New Democrats were far ahead in the polls and expected to win. “We can work with an NDP government,” Weaver said, acknowledging the NDP was closer to the Green party on its core issues. He rooted for an NDP victory: “Nobody believes the Liberals on the environmental front.”
By that logic, with this race neck and neck, one might expect Weaver and the Greens to blast the Liberals at every chance, or even counsel strategic voting so as to be sure the party “nobody believes on the environmental front” doesn’t remain in power. But the Greens’ campaign chair told the Vancouver Sun: “I’m not concerned about Christy Clark getting back in. Democracy requires a multitude of voices and ideas.”
So, again, why would Weaver paint his Greens light orange last election, but now colour his relationship with the BC Liberals so rosy?
Probably because it’s not personal, but strategically political to do so.
With Clark weakened by scandal, Weaver has much to gain by lulling disaffected BC Liberal voters and Liberal-leaning independents into believing his party is a light green shade of BC Liberal — a safe protest vote this time around for people who identify with the pro-business party but believe it has accumulated too much baggage and needs a reset.
It’s a clever approach, but might also be termed cynical doublespeak, because the Green platform (which few voters will pore over) differs significantly from the BC Liberal program in planning to run budget deficits, double the foreign buyers’ tax on homes while extending it across the province, and more than doubling the carbon tax.
Weaver’s gambit is rehearsed. In the previous provincial election, he merely fit his “safe protest vote” pitch to that contest’s different dynamics. When the NDP looked all but certain to win last time, Weaver sent signals that he “got” why they would appeal, and offered the Greens as a choice for left-leaning voters who wanted to “hold accountable” the incoming NDP government. It was his strategy for winning over potential NDP voters even as he made them feel OK about it.
This time, with the race so tight, Weaver and his team likely decided NDP-leaning voters are less susceptible to such wooing, while BC Liberal-leaning ones might be more willing to send a message to Clark.
There are more than a few ironies in all this. During the last election, Clark’s BC Liberals saw so much utility in the potential of Weaver’s party to split the left vote that they bought newspaper ads praising the Greens. Now the friendlier Weaver acts towards the BC Liberals, the more likely he will take some of their votes.
But leave it to Weaver to provide the final irony. During the last election, in the waning days of the campaign, he went out of his way to praise then-NDP leader Adrian Dix for coming out firmly against Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline.
Horgan, who faces the same tough political calculations that Dix did in needing to balance jobs and environment, is running on an NDP platform that again firmly opposes the same pipeline.
Meanwhile, the BC Liberals led by Clark, then and now, have backed the pipeline that will carry oil sands bitumen and greatly increase the number of tankers loading the stuff in Burnaby.
What did Weaver say about Dix in 2013? “I’m not somebody who will try to score cheap political victories by going against somebody who’s done something I firmly believe in.”
Four years later, it seems he is.