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Green Party poised to stake claim in B.C. legislature

Grey-haired demonstrators occupy a sun-splashed patch of grass outside the Health Point Care Centre, many brandishing placards that elicit honks of support from cars whipping past.

Green Party Leader Jane Sterk quietly makes her way through the seniors, stopping to chat with many of those who have come out on a glorious, West Coast morning to protest against what they perceive to be the unfair treatment of physicians. The centre is not in the riding of Victoria-Beacon Hill, where Ms. Sterk is seeking election, but when you are the head of a political party, every riding is your riding.

"I'm creating a reputation everywhere I go," Ms. Sterk will say later of her strategy. "When you capture someone's thinking, then they tell two people, and then they tell two people. That builds support for you everywhere."

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Ms. Sterk's party stands on the precipice of a historic breakthrough in B.C. It is not outside reason to believe the Greens could see their first representative elected to the provincial legislature on May 14. The party's best chance lies right here, in southern Vancouver Island, the area that sent federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May to Ottawa.

There is little question that Ms. May's presence on the national scene has bolstered the Greens' credibility provincially. The tireless MP has impressed many with reasoned, articulate thoughts on a broad spectrum of issues. Most believe there is a correlation between Ms. May's notable debut in Ottawa and the party's performance in last fall's federal by-elections, particularly the one in Victoria.

In that race, Green candidate Donald Galloway narrowly lost to New Democrat Murray Rankin. Mr. Rankin took 37 per cent of the vote to Mr. Galloway's 34. Ms. Sterk figures about 60 per cent of Mr. Galloway's votes came from the riding in which she is running – which is another reason she is optimistic about pulling off an upset.

Still, Ms. Sterk is trying to vanquish a formidable foe: incumbent New Democrat Carole James. The former NDP leader has taken a front-and-centre role under her successor, Adrian Dix. She would likely receive a major cabinet post should the New Democrats form government. Beyond that, she is widely admired and respected in her riding. One might think that someone going up against such a figure might feel trepidation, or even a little bit bad about trying to dump a person whose constituency work has been so appreciated.

"Not at all," Ms. Sterk says back in her campaign office. "This is about different visions for the province. This is not about Carole at all."

Despite the Greens' surge in recent months, Ms. Sterk remains somewhat of a mystery in B.C. She does not have the profile of her predecessor, Adrianne Carr. But that could be changing.

Global BC, the most watched-television station in the province, did a question-and-answer session with the leaders of each of the four main political parties to kick off the campaign. There was broad consensus that, of the group, Ms. Sterk made the most of her opportunity and came across better than her rivals. She will get other chances to get people thinking Green, including two leaders' debates.

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She has the strongest team of candidates the party has ever fielded, which includes Andrew Weaver, climate scientist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Mr. Weaver has a realistic chance of knocking off Liberal incumbent Ida Chong in a Victoria-area riding. Ms. Sterk believes the party could win Saanich North too. So do some Liberal organizers.

Ms. Sterk is not what you expect a Green Party leader to be. She says she is not an environmentalist. She has a background as a small-business owner. If anything, she has tried to move the Greens away from the widely held perception that they are simply an environmental party. Ms. Sterk says her platform is more centrist than those of either the Liberals or the New Democrats.

Not surprisingly, it focuses on things like clean technology as the economic generator of the future. Ms. Sterk condemns the current focus on fossil fuels: "All we're doing is digging up B.C. and selling it to China." She says the biggest issue in the campaign is the "crisis in faith in democracy." People don't believe government any more.

In the past, the Greens have polled well between elections only to see that support collapse on voting day. Ms. Sterk believes that the backing the party is getting now is less provisional. For one thing, people are not worried about splitting the NDP vote and allowing a Liberal candidate to get in, she insists.

"That's not a concern this time, because people are so fed up with this government," Ms. Sterk says. "They just want them gone. So I see a real opening for us here. And I believe after Election Day, we're going to have at least one Green member in the legislature. I really do."

Editor's note: A version of this column published in print on April 19 and previous online versions incorrectly said it was at the Aberdeen Health Services Centre. In fact, it was at the Health Point Care Centre.

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