The Green Party Becomes the Power Broker in British Columbia

This post was originally published on this site
https://static01.nyt.com/images/2017/05/29/world/29greens/29greens-moth.jpg

Andrew Weaver became famous in Canada as a climate scientist who decried the world’s inaction on the warming atmosphere, and for his work with a United Nations panel that won a Nobel Prize along with Vice President Al Gore.

Now the former University of Victoria professor is about to become a power broker in the British Columbia Legislature as head of the provincial Green Party, in position to put his science-based theories into action.

When the results of the election for British Columbia’s provincial Legislature were finalized last week, neither of the two biggest parties captured a majority of votes. That made Mr. Weaver a kingmaker — and, for the first time, gave the Greens real political power in North America.

Whichever party Mr. Weaver supports will form the next government, putting the Greens in a position to extract concessions, with the potential to reshape politics in the province. He is negotiating with both the center-left New Democratic Party and the British Columbia Liberals, a center-right party that holds the largest number of seats. On Wednesday he is to announce where he will bestow the Greens’ three seats.

“It’s a huge opportunity for our party and we’re determined to show we can be productive holding the balance of power,” said Mr. Weaver, 55, in a recent interview. “A North American magnifying glass is going to be on every move we make. Being a climate scientist is good training for that kind of scrutiny.”

But Mr. Weaver, an author of 200 scientific papers, faces a difficult balancing act. His principles and the Green Party’s platform are diametrically at odds with much of the resource-extraction policies of both the B.C. Liberals and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national Liberal Party.

During the campaign, the Greens promised to strengthen environmental regulations, curb log exports, increase a tax on carbon and set an interim target of a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2007 levels by 2030.

They also vowed to stop a proposed $20 billion liquefied natural gas export project favored by the former government, and to cancel a 715-mile expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain oil pipeline.

Mr. Trudeau’s government has already approved the pipeline expansion, and what any government in British Columbia could do about that is not clear. Canada’s constitution gives the federal government authority over pipelines that cross over provincial boundaries.

But in an open letter to The Vancouver Sun, several professors of constitutional law, led by David Robitaille of the University of Ottawa, argued that while provinces cannot stop pipelines from crossing their territory, they can “impose conditions on interprovincial companies to protect the environment and the safety and health of their communities.”

Mr. Weaver said a new government has a number of ways to prevent the pipeline from moving forward, including by conducting a fresh provincial environmental assessment that could thwart the project.

“B.C. could step in and say it’s clearly flawed,” he said.

In any case, legal challenges brought by indigenous groups and others may put the project into limbo, making action by the province unnecessary.

Mr. Weaver, who entered politics only in 2013, when he won a seat in the provincial Legislature, will also have some delicate maneuvering when it comes to pushing other items on his party’s agenda.

The B.C. Liberals have long supported expanding natural resource extraction and limiting environmental protections — though they did introduce a carbon tax. The New Democrats favor positions more in line with the Greens, including limited mining and forestry and opposition to the pipeline. They do, however, conditionally support the liquefied natural gas initiative.

The economic importance of the forestry and pulp and paper industries to British Columbia will make it difficult, if not impossible, for either the B.C. Liberals or New Democrats to adopt any Green Party policy that might limit production in the interests of sustainability and climate change mitigation.

In 2015, the most recent statistics available, more than 65,000 people worked in the sector and the forestry industry produced 10 billion Canadian dollars in exports for the province. Many forestry workers are members of labor unions that were part of the initial formation of the New Democrats and that are major donors to the party.

The sector’s importance was clear when Christy Clark, the B.C. Liberal leader, suggested she might retaliate against the United States after the Commerce Department imposed a new round of duties on Canadian lumber last month in a decades-old trade battle.

In addition to working with the B.C. Liberals and the New Democrats, Mr. Weaver will also have to deal with pressure from his own party.

“Environmentalists will definitely be reminding the Green party where their base is,” said Emma Gilchrist, executive director of DeSmog Canada, an environmental journalism website in British Columbia. “They will have a very slim majority. It’s not going to be easy to get things done.”

Still, Mr. Weaver’s bargaining position in the Legislature gives him leverage.

“There’s no question that Andrew Weaver is in an exceptional position of power,” said Maxwell A. Cameron, a political scientist who has studied minority governments in his role as the director of Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at the University of British Columbia. “Not only does he get to choose what party he supports and put it in office, to some extent he gets to determine its policies.”

In addition to pushing its environmental priorities, the Green Party supports a ban on corporate and union political donations and a revamping of the province’s political system so that parties get legislative seats based on their proportion of the popular vote. The current system, in which seats are awarded to the candidate with the largest number of votes in each electoral district, favors the two large, entrenched parties.

When the Green Party was formed in Canada in 1983, it was the first green party in North America. Its fortunes have gone up and down since then, often because of internal political struggles. The Canadian environmental movement’s base has long been in British Columbia, whose residents, like Californians, have a higher-than-usual interest in environmental issues.

Elizabeth May, the leader of the federal Green Party, was born in the United States, raised on Canada’s Atlantic coast and spent most of her adult life in Ontario. But she represents part of British Columbia in Parliament because the electoral district was seen as the most likely in the country to elect a Green candidate.