Andrew Weaver and the Greens make history in Oak Bay-Gordon Head

Andrew Weaver has made history.

He is the first Green MLA elected to the B.C. legislature.

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In his victory speech at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel, Weaver made reference to concerns that the Greens and NDP would split the voting and elect the Liberal incumbent by default.

“ We didn’t split the vote. We are the vote in Oak Bay-Gordon Head,” Weaver said.

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“Tonight we’ve made history. You’ve made history. We’ve all made history together tonight in Oak Bay-Gordon Head.”

The voters in the riding warmed to Weaver, a University of Victoria professor of climate modelling who was part of the 2007 climate-change team that won the Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. vice-president Al Gore.

“Even a few Green MLAs will make a difference in the legislature,” a confident Weaver said before the results came in as he arrived for his victory party. “Change for the best, one seat at a time.”

The riding was one of the most hotly contested races in B.C.

Heading in, no one could say for sure if the NDP would regain the seat it lost in 1996 or if the NDP and Greens would split the vote and hand Liberal incumbent Ida Chong a fifth victory.

But right from the start, Weaver took an early lead over Chong and the New Democrats’ Jessica Van der Veen.

At 10:40 p.m., Weaver had 41 per cent of the vote with 6,866 votes. Chong had 29 per cent or 4,886. Van der Veen was in third with 28 per cent or 4,798 votes.

In 2009, Van Der Veen came within 561 votes of defeating Chong. During this campaign, the community advocate tried to convince voters they didn’t have the luxury of voting Green.

Chong, who had represented Oak Bay-Gordon Head since 1996, entered her cramped campaign headquarters at Fort and Foul Bay 30 seconds after 50 of her supporters cheered television newscasters declaration of a Liberal victory at 9:10 p.m.

Chants of “Ida! Ida! Ida!” gave way to a call and response of “Who da Chong?” “I da Chong!” Chong said with a smile.

Chong said she believed the Liberals had a chance to win re-election province-wide when she saw the polls narrowing. “We always knew we could win.”

At 9:50 p.m., moving into second-place, Chong still wasn’t conceding defeat.

“I’m going to wait a little bit more before I make any calls to my opponents,” she said. “I’m elated that we’re forming government one more time.”

Asked how to explain what was happening in her own riding, Chong said “Oak Bay-Gordon Head is a riding that has always had a lot of independence.”

Midway through the campaign, polls indicating the Liberals were closing the gap seemed to hurt Weaver’s chances. Toward the end of the campaign, polls indicating the NDP were pulling ahead again might have allowed voters to consider supporting Weaver.

The Liberal campaign also used Weaver as a weapon against the NDP.

B.C. Liberal headquarters paid for a full-page ad in the Times Colonist that praised Jane Sterk and the Greens for having clear views about how to protect the coast, while accusing Adrian Dix and the NDP of flip-flopping on the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

Political scientist Normal Ruff called it a clear attempt to split opposition votes between the NDP and the Greens.

One of Chong’s main messages was that the Liberals are best able to deal with economic issues.

Chong, who served as minister of aboriginal relations and reconcilation, said she lobbied hard as MLA to get the $348-million Royal Jubilee Hospital patient-care centre open.

Liberal leader Christy Clark visited Oak Bay-Gordon Head again on Monday in a bid to boost Chong’s campaign. Chong admitted at the time that she was feeling anxiety and trepidation — but also excitement.

Conservative Greg Kazakoff, a chartered accountant, was never in contention, earning about two per cent of the vote. His top three issues were restoring citizens’ faith in government, fiscal responsibility and fostering economic growth.

Oak Bay-Gordon Head is a relatively affluent riding. The 2006 census reported a population of 48,420, with 36,500 voters including 10,000 seniors. In 2006, the average family income was $109,628. The average value of owner-occupied homes was $639,264.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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