Opinion

Time for a ‘Red-Green Alliance’ to Oust Clark

Greens will pay big price if they ignore policy conflicts and prop up the BC Liberals.

By Bill Tieleman 16 May 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 can’t bear Christy Clark — that phony smile. Whereas, Andrew, if he smiles, it’s genuine.”Ludmilla Weaver, mother of Green Party leader Andrew Weaver

Leave it to Mrs. Weaver — did she ever call it right on BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark!

And like 59 per cent of B.C. voters, Mrs. Weaver voted for change — to end the BC Liberal government’s 16 years in power.

So with a minority government situation, it’s time to talk about a “red-green alliance” between the BC New Democrats and Greens — common in Europe between social democrats and environmentalists — to defeat the BC Liberals.

Clark, unless final vote counts give her one more seat, cannot continue to govern without the Greens.

The current count of 43 BC Liberal MLAs, 41 New Democrat MLAs and three Greens is likely to remain the same, according to University of British Columbia economist Kevin Milligan’s detailed calculations, with just a 10 per cent chance the BC Liberals will pick up a seat.

That means it’s a 90 per cent per cent probability that Weaver’s party will decide who forms government and what policies are implemented.

If Europe is any guide, the most sensible option is an agreement between the social democratic or “red” party — John Horgan’s BC NDP — and Weaver’s Greens.

Whether parties simply strike an agreement or form an actual coalition, “red-green alliances” have taken power in Germany, France, Sweden, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Portugal and Greece, among others, since 1995.

The goals are generally similar: to defeat right-of-centre governments and bring progressive change — and that sounds exactly like the current situation in B.C.!

Any comparison of the NDP, Green and BC Liberal election platforms makes it obvious which parties have similar positions and which party — Clark’s — is way out of step with the other two.

The BC NDP and Greens would:

end corporate and union political donations;

work toward a proportional representation electoral system;

oppose the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline;

take significant action on housing affordability;

have serious concerns about BC Hydro’s Site C dam and the proposed $3 billion George Massey Tunnel bridge replacement;

have big doubts and reservations about liquefied natural gas projects;

support universal child care and increased public transit funding;

would boost both disability and social assistance benefits;

back an accelerated increase in the BC carbon tax.

The BC Liberals, by contrast:

grew rich off corporate money;

oppose proportional representation;

back the Kinder Morgan bitumen pipeline from Alberta;

are building Site C at enormous cost and financial risk with big environmental impact;

want to construct a new 10-lane Massey Bridge over the objections of all but one Metro Vancouver mayor;

are huge LNG fans still pushing for multiple plants;

oppose $10 a day universal child care;

would demand another plebiscite on new Metro Vancouver transit funding, against the wishes of most mayors;

haven’t increased income assistance for 11 years and only raised disability benefits by a small amount after freezing them for nine years, then clawed back transit passes for many;

froze the carbon tax Weaver helped implement.

But the differences don’t end there — the Greens have been scathing in their criticism of the BC Liberals, especially on climate change issues:

“Under Christy Clark’s B.C. Liberal government, B.C. has moved backwards. Of Canada’s four most populous provinces, only B.C. is projected to increase its emissions by 2030,” says the BC Greens election platform.

“The Clark government has frozen the price of carbon, ignored the recommendations of their own Climate Leadership Team and left the clean tech sector out to dry with no support. They have invested heavily in LNG and approved oil pipelines, hinging B.C.’s economic future on the sunset industry of fossil fuels,” it concludes.

And Weaver himself ripped the Clark government in 2015 in the BC Legislature over its liquefied natural gas obsession and its failure to deliver:

“Frankly, the incompetence of our government’s bumbling attempts to land LNG final investment decisions have made the British Columbia government a laughing stock on the international energy scene,” Weaver said. “The lack of a fiscally conservative approach to energy policy in this province makes me wonder just what this government is thinking. They are chasing a falling stock and doubling down in the process.”

And then Weaver went on to pummel the BC Liberals for pushing ahead with BC Hydro’s Site C dam, which Clark promised in 2016 to push “past the point of no return.”

“Site C is fiscally foolish, socially irresponsible and environmentally unsound. It no longer represents a wise economic social environmental option for providing British Columbians with the power they need,” Weaver also told the BC Legislature. “There are other alternatives available at cheaper costs with lower environmental and social impacts.”

“I’ve been pointing out for several years now that Site C is the wrong project at the wrong time when alternative energy, including geothermal, wind, tidal and small-scale hydro sources, coupled with existing dams would provide substantially improved firm energy and capacity,” Weaver said.

“This approach would be less damaging to the environment and distributed around British Columbia. It would provide future power requirements with better costs and employment opportunities. Geothermal, wind, tidal and smaller hydro projects would deal substantial economic benefit to communities, especially First Nations,” the Green leader concluded.

Agree or disagree, it’s pretty hard to imagine Weaver and his Green MLAs being able to defend keeping Christy Clark in power so she can complete Site C and develop LNG plants — these quotes would come back to haunt them forever.

It looks very much like the decision on which party will govern will indeed rest with Weaver and new Green MLAs Adam Olsen and Sonia Furstenau.

UBC’s Milligan ran computer simulations to assess the possible impact of absentee ballots and recounts an amazing one million times and came to the conclusion that a minority is very likely.

“And what I found was about 60 per cent of the time, things just stay kind of like what they are, 43 seats for the Liberals, 41 for the NDP,” said Milligan. “But a substantial 25 per cent of the time, it turns out to be a tie, it would be 42-42.”

And Milligan says there is a very slim chance — less than five per cent — the NDP could pull off an upset and grab two extra seats, while the BC Liberals have a tiny chance at adding two seats. He also figures that absentee ballots tend to favour the NDP, not the BC Liberals.

“I learned two things... The NDP get more of a boost from the absentee ballots than the Liberals do. And the second thing is the size of these boosts... can move the per cent vote up or down by about a half percentage point,” Milligan told CKNW radio.

“[There are] a couple possible reasons for that. Parties might have more aggressive get out the vote campaigns, but more likely to me is it’s the type of people who use this absentee thing might be quite different and might tend to favour, for whatever reason, the NDP,” Milligan said.

That isn’t the only factor working against Clark. One of her former key staff members has joined former Liberal finance minister Kevin Falcon in criticizing the BC Liberals’ campaign tactics.

Clark’s former press secretary Chris Olsen says the BC Liberal team led by campaign director Laura Miller committed a “crucial error” by wrongly accusing a woman who confronted Clark during a North Vancouver campaign stop of being an “NDP plant.”

Retired social work assistant Linda Higgins shook hands with Clark in a grocery store, but then said to her “I would never vote for you because of what...” Clark rudely cut her off without letting her give her reasons, which Higgins later said were housing affordability and the wrongful firing of eight health care researchers, one of whom took his life.

The BC Liberal campaign, including Miller on Twitter, attacked Higgins, only retracting days later, without apologizing for the false accusation. The incident sparked an #IamLinda Twitter hashtag and outraged comments.

“The Liberal campaign should have apologized as quickly as possible,” Olsen, a former CKNW and CTV reporter who was Clark’s press secretary from 2011 to 2012, told the Province’s Mike Smyth. “But they made it worse instead and it may have cost them a majority government.”

Olsen also observed that BC Liberal cabinet minister Naomi Yamamoto — who was present for the encounter — lost her North Vancouver-Lonsdale seat to NDP candidate Bowinn Ma.

Olsen’s comments followed Falcon’s surprisingly quick condemnation not only of Clark’s campaign but also her approach to transit issues in Metro Vancouver and her ongoing support for corporate political donations, which overwhelmingly go to the BC Liberals.

“For the BC Liberals, they really got hammered particularly in the Lower Mainland, and I think that reflects frustration over a number of issues, campaign finance, lack of progress over transportation projects, and just a little too much politics and not quite enough policy initiative,” Falcon, who finished second to Clark in the BC Liberal leadership contest in 2011, told the Vancouver Sun’s Rob Shaw last week.

“I think the public recognized that B.C.’s economy is the envy of the nation, I just don’t think it was enough,” Falcon said.

“I think the perceived ethical issues, the campaign finance issues that were never really addressed, I think that really gnawed away at people, and it bothered them and that was reflected in a negative vote,” he concluded, adding that reforming political donation rules “should have been done a long time ago.”

Given the BC Liberals’ complete condemnation of the Greens’ core issues and a potential internal rebellion against the premier’s continued leadership, could Green MLAs Weaver, Olsen and Furstenau really go into the BC Legislature and guarantee Christy Clark stays on as premier?

Because the leopard can no more change its spots than Clark’s BC Liberals can become environmentalist social democrats.

Green voters in this election included those who support Green ideals and those who previously voted BC Liberal, but urgently wanted to get rid of Clark as premier.

None of those voters could possibly be satisfied with the Greens propping up Clark, even with a weak co-operation agreement that would deliver little. And given an unstable government, the odds of an election within 18 months are huge — and those voters would seriously punish the Greens.

If Weaver listens to his mother’s good advice, he won’t trust Clark’s phony smile or any desperate promises she makes to retain power, and an NDP-Green agreement will guarantee real progressive change.  [Tyee]

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