British Columbia’s Greens took a serious hit Monday — their leader did just what he’s always advocated and made his political career a relatively short-term gig.
Leader Andrew Weaver said he will not run in the next election, scheduled for the fall of 2021. He will finish his second term as Oak Bay-Gordon Head’s MLA, but carry on as leader only until next summer, when a new party leader will be elected.
It’s an enormous jolt to the party. Members are about to find out whether the B.C. Greens are a sustained political phenomenon, or a movement that was fortunate to find a superstar for a while and made the most of him.
Weaver’s fellow caucus members Sonia Furstenau and Adam Olsen are effective MLAs, but Weaver is the face, heart and soul of the party and the principal reason why it made a three-seat breakthrough in 2017.
He built an interesting narrative prior to that success. An internationally known climate scientist, he used to lecture his UVic students about the need to get involved in politics rather than just study the crisis in academia.
Eventually, someone called him on it and he was obligated to follow his own advice.
He set his sights on the Oak Bay seat in 2013. Liberals and New Democrats have each held the riding for extended periods, but they hit a saw-off and Weaver easily bulldozed up the middle.
He was a local boy, a famous professor and he was riding a popular cause with big momentum.
His first exploratory term was mostly about climate change, but he rounded out the party’s platform with stands on lots of other issues.
The NDP was uneasy about his potential, but the Liberals welcomed him as someone who would curb the NDP vote — until his sniping at the LNG plans got too much for them.
For all his disdain for “traditional politics,” he learned to play the artful game with the best of them.
After the dead-heat election in the 2017 election, he played his hand adroitly. He wound up cementing the NDP’s hold on power with an arrangement that has survived even profound disagreements over things like LNG and the Site C hydroelectric dam.
“It’s never been about power,” he lectured reporters yet again Monday. That’s what people who hold the balance of power always say.
He said a recent vertigo-inducing inner ear problem that sidelined him briefly was not the reason for his decision, but it reaffirmed the decision he’d made earlier.
One of the most striking things about all the manoeuvring that led to the Greens propping up the NDP was the change in the Horgan-Weaver relationship.
They were verging on antagonistic in the year before circumstances smashed them together. But they put together a co-operative arrangement and against all odds started liking each other.
That closeness will likely hold to the end of the term. Not so much with Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson, who dodged even a boilerplate best wishes to someone ending their career.
Weaver gave all sorts of warnings over the years that this day would come. This year, he introduced a bill setting limits on how many times MLAs can run for office, just to start a discussion.
If his party took him seriously, they will have a seamless succession plan in place and Greens will continue building on their strengths. If it didn’t, the transition will be even tougher than it looks now.
There was a distinct chance the NDP would shunt the Greens out of the way in 2021 and B.C. would revert to the two-party norm.
For the Greens, the big win in the political sweepstakes was the campaign reform that curtailed Liberal and NDP fundraising, which reduced their financial edge.
The big loss was the rejection of proportional representation. It would have guaranteed them a dozen or more seats regardless of who is leader.
The Green brand is trending favourably in the current federal campaign and the provincial wing was enjoying some reflection from that.
But breaking out of the south Island bubble needs an exciting new leader to lead the charge.
The hunt is on.