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Different Leader, Same Mistake

By Stuart Hertzog
October 3rd, 2008

BC Green leader parachutes into Vancouver-Fairview by-election

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
— George Santayana, The Life of Reason or The Phases of Human Progress

Vancouver-Fairview 2005Victoria, BC — Although philosopher George Santayana offered his sage observation to the world back in 1924, it seems that his message hasn’t yet reached the inner sanctum of the Green Party of BC.

Vancouver-Fairview was vacated last June by NDP MLA Gregor Robertson when he stepped down to run as Vision Vancouver’s mayoralty candidate. Robertson won Fairview in 2005 by just 895 votes over BC Liberal Virginia Greene, capturing over 13,009 (47%) of the votes cast in that constituency.

Although Green candidate Hamdy El-Rayes came third behind Greene (what a difference an ‘e’ makes!), at only 8.88% (2,400 votes) he trailed way behind in the dust of the two front runners. Since then, a minor boundary redistribution for 2009 has tipped the balance perhaps even more in the NDP’s favour, although I understand that this won’t be in effect for this by-election.

Anger on Cambie Street

Fairview has been plagued by disruption caused by the Canada Line project to connect downtown to the airport and Richmond. This has angered small business owners along Cambie Street and forced some to close. Robertson has already capitalised on the BC Liberal’s refusal to compensate business owners.

By-elections are always an opportunity to stick it to the current government, and the NDP is using the Canada Line to power its by-election campaign. Although the construction disruption is winding down, the BC Liberals can’t be too popular in Fairview right now, leaving the NDP well-positioned to win.

Why would Sterk want to take on what is obviously a losing proposition for any Green candidate? She may be a poll-topping municipal councillor in Esquimalt, but in Fairview she’s just a parachute candidate, and even worse, she’s another Green Party leader muscling in on a local scene just to raise her public profile.

Seriously downhill

The last time a BC Green Party leader tried this trick it went seriously downhill. Former BC Green party leader Adriane Carr ran in the Surrey-Panorama Ridge by-election in October 2004 for the same reasons, and lost heavily. Her share of the vote at 8.37% (1,053 votes) was even lower than 2001 election Green candidate Sunny Atwal’s 8.83% share, from which he received 1,437 votes.

It was the last nail in Carr’s leadership coffin. Not long after her humiliation, the party’s provincial executive made it clear that she had to go. Carr negotiated an agreement to become deputy leader of the federal Greens, and stepped down. Could another BC Green leader be about to lose credibility to an NDP drubbing?

Doesn’t make sense

There are many reasons why Sterk shouldn’t run in Vancouver-Fairview. She must know that she’s unlikely to win, so her primary purpose must be to boost her public profile. But if she bombs as Carr did, how is that going to help her?

Even if she makes a respectable showing, which is unlikely as she’s so obviously not from that community, how is that going to play out back home when the provincial election is called in 2009? Or is she going to forsake the strong support of her home base and run again in Vancouver-Fairview?

Either course of action just doesn’t make sense. It’s almost as bad as Elizabeth May forsaking London North Centre where she polled 26% in the 2006 by-election, to run against local hero Peter MacKay in conservative Central Nova.

Bad advice?

Why is she doing this? Either Sterk must be getting bad advice from the same unimaginatively conventional Green strategists who supported Carr’s decision to run in Surrey-Panorama in 2004 — if Carr was actually listening to anyone else at that time. Or, her political ambitions have overcome her common sense.

I suspect the former, which brings me back once again to my conclusion that Green parties are rapidly moving away from their foundational grassroots democratic principles. Dumping a ‘star candidate’ onto a local constituency is a prime example of the arrogance of conventional, ‘top-down’ politics, in which the leader and party brass subvert any local democratic initiative.

Instead of pushing him- or herself before the public, a genuinely Green leader would seek out and cultivate local activist candidates prominent in community issues. She or he would make sure that the candidate has a strong local Green constituency association active on local issues, ready to support the campaign.

Patterns of the past

That’s what I was hoping to see in a revitalised BC Green Party. But here we go again, another conventional political leader repeating the same unsuccessful patterns of the past. It’s so boring; it won’t work; and it just ain’t Green.



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