For the past four years, Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver cut a lonely figure on the opposition benches of the B.C. legislature – rarely allowed to direct a query toward the government during Question Period, prone to lengthy, academic dissertations in the House largely ignored by the media.
Not any more.
Mr. Weaver is now the most feted, sought-after person in B.C. politics, all thanks to the three seats his party won in the recent provincial election. The results were made official on Wednesday: the long-time governing Liberals ended up with 43 seats, two more than the New Democrats. Consequently, both parties are now desperately wooing the Greens in the hope of forming some sort of alliance that will allow them to govern for a while.
This has accorded Mr. Weaver attention he had not received previously. He clearly enjoys it. Some days you'd think the Greens had won the election, so confident does their leader speak about the party's legislative ambitions.
It is, by any measure, a bizarre situation. Since the election was held on May 9, the biggest political parlour game in B.C. has been trying to discern just exactly who the Greens intend on supporting. Every sentence of Mr. Weaver's is parsed for clues.
Last week, the climate scientist-turned-politician went on a tirade about the Liberals' sorry record on the environment – a diatribe most interpreted as clear sign his party intends on supporting the NDP. Before that, however, he suggested he would have a difficult time working with NDP Leader John Horgan because he's too much of a hot head. Advantage, Liberals.
I would suggest if there is one thing Mr. Weaver needs to avoid it's hubris. The Greens won three seats – three – and they need to remember that. British Columbians didn't elect them to govern the province, nor did they give them authority to enact their election platform. Most voters never imagined the Greens would ever be in this position.
One thing Mr. Weaver wants in exchange for his assistance is electoral reform. He wants a new system of voting, such as proportional representation, which apportions seats based on the percentage of the popular vote a party gets. Two referendums on this very question were held in B.C. since 2005 – and both were defeated. Yet, Mr. Weaver is insisting that a new voting regime be introduced in time for the next election; another referendum could be held after the fact, he says.
Needless to say, this is ridiculous. You don't change something as fundamental to democracy as a voting system without consulting the public first. Any government that did so would surely pay a heavy political price, and rightly so.
One could quite easily make the argument, in fact, that what proportional representation often gives you is the situation playing out in B.C. right now; parties at the mercy of other parties that have only have a few seats but whose support is crucial in order to form government. Only then does it begin dawning on people what this could actually mean.
The fact is, the Greens' agenda was not scrutinized to the same extent as were the platforms of the Liberals and NDP. That's understandable. They had no hope of forming government. But suddenly, they have the next-best thing: being in the position of implementing large chunks of their agenda in exchange for helping prop up a government. That's called getting all of the rewards with little of the responsibility.
Now, it should be said that there are elements of the Green's policy wish list that are worthy of making law – banning union and corporate donations and generally reforming B.C.'s non-existent campaign-finance laws being chief among them. The Greens want to ban trophy bear hunting, as well. Can't argue with that.
But they also want to kill the Kinder-Morgan pipeline expansion and the Site C hydroelectric project. They want an immediate and significant increase in the province's carbon tax. Precisely how doctrinaire the Greens are going to be about these matters in their negotiations with the Liberals and the NDP no one knows. But how much clout should a party with three seats have over matters this consequential?
One thing is certain: The Greens are going to face a level of examination that they have not faced before – for better or worse. No longer will Mr. Weaver be the solitary figure sitting on the sidelines wondering what political power feels like.