VICTORIA — With the B.C. Greens mounting a full blown campaign in the byelection in Nanaimo this month, party leader Andrew Weaver is fielding complaints they’ll split the vote and help elect the B.C. Liberals.
“The NDP trolls are at it again,” was the way he put it to me this week as he headed for Nanaimo to campaign with Michele Ney, the Green candidate for the Jan. 30 vote.
Weaver has already worked up a response to calls for the Greens to drop out of the byelection fight lest they help defeat the New Democrats and elect the Liberals.
“Actually, the NDP and Liberal candidates should bow out instead,” he wrote on social media. “Nanaimo would get incredible representation putting their interests first, instead of party insider interests. And that would ensure neither the NDP nor Liberals split our vote.”
Weaver has used lines like that before in response to previous calls for the Greens to avoid vote splitting.
But the call has been given added impetus by him having established a power-sharing partnership with Premier John Horgan and the New Democrats.
Both leaders ended the year by expressing satisfaction with the working relationship.
“Andrew and I, although we disagree on many issues, we have a shared set of values we come back to whenever we are in a difficult moment,” said Horgan during an interview with Rob Shaw of Postmedia News.
“He ain’t going to change, nor am I. But both of us have changed in as much as we’ve recognized this is a huge opportunity to get a lot of stuff done working together.
“I thought that it would be very difficult to work with the NDP,” said Weaver in a year ender with the CBC’s Tanya Fletcher. “But over the course of this year what has surprised me most is that not only have I seen this work, but it’s become clear to me that I really like John Horgan. He’s a guy I’d go for a beer with.
“That doesn’t mean there won’t be tensions or disagreements. It does mean that I don’t realistically see this not going the full term.”
Given the apparent bromance between the two, it is more than just trolls who are wondering about the wisdom of the Green decision to field a candidate in Nanaimo.
Why put such a fruitful partnership at risk in a byelection where a win by the Liberals could produce a tie in the legislature and potentially shorten the NDP’s tenure in office?
But Weaver is adamant that his willingness to provide support to the New Democrats in the legislature does not extend to vacating the political arena in elections.
On the contrary, he regards it as more important than ever that the Greens establish a separate political identity.
In that respect he would appear to agree with Matt Toner, the former deputy leader of the Greens. When proportional representation was rejected in the referendum, Toner warned that in the next election under first past the post, the electorate could re-polarize around the two larger parties.
Consequently, he argued it is critically important for the Greens to establish and maintain a separate identify for themselves, lest they end up looking like “the junior varsity team of the NDP.”
In that regard, no one can accuse Weaver of going soft on the New Democrats in the Nanaimo byelection.
He’s already blasted NDP candidate Sheila Malcolmson on social media for resigning her federal seat to run provincially.
“This is in fact all about you,” accused Weaver. “You bailed on your community, forcing a federal byelection in an opportunistic quest for power.”
Then on a campaign swing in Nanaimo Thursday, he further discounted Malcolmson, saying if Ney were elected, she would have more influence on the government.
“She’ll have influence as one of the four Green MLAs holding the balance of responsibility in the B.C. legislature,” the Green leader told reporter Chris Bush of the Nanaimo Bulletin. “The B.C. NDP have to listen to us, and they do, and that gives her direct influence.
“She will have more influence in government than Sheila because Sheila will be another NDP backbencher twiddling her thumbs.”
Weaver hopes to translate the Greens’ 20 per cent share of the vote in Nanaimo in the last general election into a three-way race with the NDP and the Liberals this time.
He had similar aspirations a year ago in the byelection for the Kelowna West seat, vacated when Christy Clark stepped down as MLA and leader of the B.C. Liberals.
Though the Greens credited Weaver with 10 days of campaigning in the byelection, the party vote dropped by a point from its showing in the general election.
Meanwhile the Greens are not the only party in the field facing spoiler accusations in Nanaimo.
Last in to the field of six candidates was Justin Greenwood, interim deputy leader of the B.C. Conservatives.
Barely was his name out this week when B.C. Liberals began grumbling that he would split the anti-government vote and make it easier for the New Democrats to hang on.
As the week ended, Greenwood, the Vancouver area manager for a real estate media firm, appeared to be still working up a full range of responses for the Nanaimo campaign.
Perhaps in the interim Weaver and the Greens can forward some unused talking points to the Conservatives on the matter of vote splitting.
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