Old-school politics won’t save us from climate chaos. Here’s what might.

Odds favour a B.C. election in 2020. How can we force cooperation on the defining issue of our lives?


Here’s a prediction for 2020: British Columbians will head back to the polls. The NDP promised to make life more affordable, and now they’ve cut bridge tolls, daycare costs and MSP premiums. Premier Horgan still enjoys high personal approval ratings. His team would rather try for a majority soon, rather than wait for the economy to sour or a major scandal to break.

But there’s one constituency feeling increasingly frustrated with Horgan and the NDP: environmental voters. This government has poured billions of public dollars into the Site C megadam, subsidies for fracking and LNG. They’ve all but thrown in the towel on Trans Mountain. If heavily-armed police charge onto Wet’suwet’en territory again, many Indigenous and progressive voters will abandon the BC NDP for good.

The Greens are well-positioned to scoop up many of these votes. But under our First Past the Post electoral system, that doesn’t necessarily mean more Green seats. Instead, it could simply mean the NDP and Greens fight over the same voters, while the BC Liberals cruise to victory.

We don’t have time for four more years of right-wing corporate rule. But we also can’t let the NDP get away with a half-hearted approach to our rapidly accelerating climate crisis. The alternative is to hack the system we have, using the existing rules to elect climate champions – and force them to cooperate across party lines.

With a leadership race coming up, local nomination contests and then another election in B.C., there are opportunities for organized local voters to play an outsized role in shaping the future of our province. We don’t have to participate in all of these battles. Dogwood’s 2020 plan is still in development. But here’s what I see on the horizon.

Step one: the next Green leader


Whoever wins the BC Green Party leadership race this spring will step into a pivotal role. The Green leader is responsible for the Confidence and Supply Agreement with the minority NDP – until the government falls, at which point they’ll be campaigning opposite Horgan.

The Greens would do well to pick someone who connects with young people and understands the transformative political potential of youth movements, like the #Vote16BC campaign and the youth climate strikes.

They also need a platform that resonates with rural British Columbians who are worried about natural disasters and job losses in their communities. That means pitting a vision for a resilient local economy against the “one more boom” mentality of the BC Liberals.

But more than anything, the party needs a strategic leader who understands that growing the Green Party’s seat count and political clout may require a tactical retreat. That would mean not running candidates in certain ridings – even if the NDP at first refuses to reciprocate.

The Sun Tzu approach

The problem is that our election system is really designed for two-party races. Add a strong third party and you often get results like in the riding of Coquitlam – Burke Mountain. There the NDP incumbent, Jodie Wickens, secured 10,301 votes in the last election. But she lost to Joan Isaacs of the BC Liberals, who got 10,388 votes. The Green candidate finished third, with 2,771 votes.

Until now, the Green Party’s approach has been to spread money and volunteer time across dozens of unwinnable races, only to be accused by progressives of “splitting the vote”. While it’s not true that every Green vote would go to the NDP in the absence of a Green candidate, there is considerable overlap between the two parties.

The next Green leader needs to pick a few races where they stand a serious chance of expanding their beachhead, and focus resources on those ridings. As legendary Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote: “He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.” He or she.

It’s up to voters in the Green leadership race to pick someone who’s willing to do politics differently. That could be you.

Under the rules of the BC Green leadership race, the party is opening the contest to non-members, including people as young as 16. Voting will be done online in June. So any B.C. resident with an email address, including teenagers, can vote for the next Green leader.

Step two: Oak Bay – Gordon Head


Former Green leader Andrew Weaver has left the party caucus to sit as an independent while he deals with a family health crisis. He told The Province he would consider resigning his seat after the leadership race, triggering a by-election.

If that happens, it’s far from certain a rookie Green could hold onto Weaver’s riding of Oak Bay – Gordon Head. Before Weaver won in 2013, it was a BC Liberal stronghold. Cabinet minister Ida Chong held the seat for 17 years. In this wealthy riding, it’s actually the NDP that could play the spoiler role.

The NDP finished third in Oak Bay – Gordon Head in the last two elections. Whether voters there pick a new MLA in a by-election or the next general election, it doesn’t make much sense for the NDP to expend resources there.

Here’s where the NDP could nominate a candidate who is willing to do the right thing for the climate: drop out if they can’t win. We saw this in Edmonton-Strathcona in the last federal election. The Green candidate stepped aside and endorsed the NDP’s Heather McPherson, who won. Dozens of candidates in the last UK election did the same thing in an effort to slow the Tory juggernaut.

The NDP is unlikely to agree to a formal cooperation agreement. But a third-place NDP candidate in Oak Bay – Gordon Head could decide to withdraw, clearing the way for a two-way race between the Green and the BC Liberal.

Our own Democratic primaries


It still hasn’t sunk in for most of our political class that we’re in a crisis. Doing things the old way is not only a waste of time and resources, it’s actively pushing us closer to the brink.

We need candidates from outside the political establishment who are willing to carry the voices of the less powerful into debates, campaigns and ultimately the legislature. But to win, they need grassroots supporters and volunteers who also come from outside the traditional party structure.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez used this outsider strategy to defeat powerful Democrat incumbent Joe Crowley in a local primary in New York. Bernie Sanders is pulling ahead in the Democratic presidential primary thanks to millions of volunteers and donors who would never support an establishment Democrat. We don’t have the same tradition of primaries in Canada – but we do have local nomination races.

There are legitimate ideological differences between the NDP and Greens. There are good reasons why they are different parties, and a merger is likely a pipe dream. But what they share are supporters: millions of British Columbians who would be willing to vote for either party, especially if it were the only one on the ballot in their riding.

The Oak Bay strategy could work all over B.C., if enough of those big-picture voters chose to get involved in political parties. In most ridings in B.C. candidates are chosen by a few dozen people at a nomination meeting. Changing the outcome could be a matter of signing up a handful of motivated, strategic party members who are ready to cooperate for the climate.

Step three: the general election


In a multi-party system, the healthiest outcome for democracy is a minority legislature with representation from multiple parties. That includes the BC Greens (and I would argue the BC Conservatives, who provide a safety valve for right-wing voters disgusted by the corruption and greed of the BC Liberal party establishment).

Minority legislatures are more accountable to voters, and more resilient to takeover by unelected power centres like the oil lobby or real estate industry. A minority scenario also offers the greatest opportunity for citizens to push through transformative legislation.

For example, B.C.’s new law banning corporate and union donations, which was part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement between the NDP and Greens. Or the BC Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (which is still a positive step even if the government thinks it can continue with business as usual).

As climate heating accelerates, we need even more ambitious changes so B.C. can ride out the horrors to come. That means massive, job-creating projects building affordable housing, transit, flood and fire defences, and emergency preparedness. We need to invest in resilient, local, renewable power generation all over the province – not more fossil fuel infrastructure. And that requires leaders who are ready to cooperate in the face of extraordinary odds.

That’s why it’s so important to set up the chess pieces ahead of time, to increase the odds of an NDP-Green government with those strong progressive voices in prominent roles. There’s work to do in both parties to get them to that point.

I’m curious to know what you think. Do you think the NDP and Greens can – or should – be convinced to cooperate? Are you turned off electoral politics completely, or do you see an opportunity to try something new? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

28 Responses to “Old-school politics won’t save us from climate chaos. Here’s what might.”

  1. Sherry says:

    People need to know that when they vote, their vote helps to put the person/party, they are impressed with, into Government! With First Past The Post it is catering to Money/Corporations and not what we, who live and breath in our various locations, want or need!

    Talk of Jobs seems to be the biggest issue and that is important, as no one, wants to deprive people of jobs,
    BUT, the need for more sustainable jobs is a very important and urgent one that we all need to be willing to progress into.
    Give support to those companies trying to make this happen! They need workers too!!!!!

  2. Al Cowan says:

    they should be convinced to cooperate to avoid the Liberal trauma we suffered from for so long…..but don’t hold your breath.

  3. Sharon Priest-Nagata says:

    I am wondering about rumours of a new party called the BC Ecosocialists. What do you and Dogwood think about them?

    • Christina Smethurst says:

      Hi Sharon, Yes, we’ve heard about the BC Ecosocialists. They have a website, but haven’t seen or heard much else from them yet. We’re interested in tackling issues rather than getting into political party dynamics, so if they are supportive of mining reform in our province, putting an end to oil subsidies and/or lowering the voting age in B.C. to 16, we’ll have lots to talk to them about. Cheers! -Christina

  4. Holly says:

    It is time for the NDP and the Greens to work together to maintain the balance of power. I am one that the NDP has pushed out, due to their very poor Environmental record, but I am not yet a Green.

  5. John Wheatcroft says:

    I used to think NDP was on our side but given the performance of Horgan I don’t think that’s so. Right out of the gate he broke his promise on site c which goes against everything the NDP stands for ; the ALR, the environment, & First Nations rights & most important he lied to us. Horgan is in my riding & although I think he has the best chance of winning I don’t think he deserves my vote.

  6. Amber van Drielen says:

    I agree. Good article.

  7. Andy Shadrack says:

    Agreed, which is why I assisted the Green Party of BC in developing a protocol for negotiating with other political entities that includes ratification by the membership at large.

  8. Nathan Loewen says:

    I am passionate yet somewhat cynical about the issue of electoral cooperation between the parties. If the NDP are seen to be interested than by all means I as a Green member want Greens to cooperate, and the example of the Oak Bay by-election will be a good test of that. However some of the gains the Greens have made has been by showing they are not just a sidekick to the NDP and can attract those who otherwise vote Liberal. I have great hopes in Sonia Furstenau’s future as potential leader who is willing to do politics very differently.
    I hope you are in contact with her about these ideas.

  9. Jessica Duncan says:

    Definitely need to see a GreenDP cooperation. I would love to see Racelle Kooy run for Oak Bay.

  10. Ray says:

    Although I know BC is better off in so many ways than under corrupt BC Libs, I am upset over Site C and LNG…..so much political slant by this Government and corporations. Too much media bias or lack of thorough research to tell people the truth. Poor MSM. Owned by corporate media…….I will vote the individual next election and not along party lines as I have for the last 45 years……total disregard for FN rights….rather a huge disappointment…..but will never vote Liberal after what they did ……the most corrupt financial mismanaged government in bc history!! In a word: disillusioned.

  11. Jennifer Iredale says:

    I’m interested in the ideas expressed in this article. Thanks for putting it out here. Personally I really want to see the Green Party given a chance to implement some policies. I want to see if they can hold true if elected. Turning the big boat of bureaucracy from its inexorable path towards climate disaster is a huge challenge for any elected government.

  12. Catherine Ann Remnant says:

    Yes, 100% agree with this proposal. I have been pushing this, in my own small way in the Kootenays since 2014.
    Thanks for bringing it to a larger stage.

    • Christina Smethurst says:

      Great to hear, Catherine! Keep up the hard work – we will all be better off because of it. -Christina

  13. SUSAN EYRE says:

    Yes, we need to emphasis on co-operation, not competition. The climate-change crisis demands that we work together, not waste our time being distracted by hate-mongering. The main problem I see is the controlled media – how do we surmount the controlled newspaper or radio and TV bias? Black Press, in our entire Kootenay area censors our letters. Global TV and CBC have been notorious in dissing, insulting and just ignoring demonstrations or any kind of climate-news. There are so many good alternatives, but the mainstream has a strong grip on what gets out. A lot of people don’t read, they watch biased TV -so how do we get past this? Winter is a good time to discuss these challenges, to move forward. Thank you for this thoughtful article. I already subscribe to your newsletter – so get a dollar from me for you.
    Thanks for your action,
    Susan Eyre

    • Christina Smethurst says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Susan! All the more reason to be having face to face conversations with friends and neighbours when you can. Media can be a good source of information, or a frustrating one depending on where you look, but our true strength lies in building up local power within our communities, forcing the conversation to change based on the sheer number of people demanding it. We appreciate your input, support and your $1! -Christina

  14. Brian Smallshaw says:

    ‘The NDP is unlikely to agree to a formal cooperation agreement.’ That is a huge understatement. This has been suggested numerous times over the years and the NDP response (if there is one) is generally that the Greens should either stand down or join the NDP. It’s also worth remembering that in the election before the Greens made their breakthrough federally in Saanich-Gulf Islands, Dogwood was pressuring them to stand down.

  15. Bill Horne says:

    I think it’s simplistic these days to identify “environmental voters” as a segment of the voting public. In the fall of 2017, I helped organize the Peace River Solidarity petition which several hundred NDP and union members, supporters and organizers signed in an attempt to persuade the government to stop the costly, unnecessary Site C dam in Treaty 8 Territory. Since my email was on the bulletins we sent to signatories with updates, many of these people cc’d me when they wrote “Dear John” letters to express their disgust with the NDP decision to continue Site C, and to announce their resignation from the party. Some of these people had been active cadre for 50 years. They were passionate about Reconciliation and economic justice, labour rights and many other issues, not just the environment. Sadly, Dogwood remained mostly silent during this period. If you had raised your voice against Site C, perhaps the party wouldn’t be bleeding so many long time members and supporters.

  16. Erich Baumann says:

    In the absence of electoral reform and a PR system, this seems like a practical approach. For the life of me I can’t understand the weak support from Weaver for PR in the recent BC referendum.

    Federally there is a big push for a National Citizen’s Assembly to develop recommendations for electoral reform. I think that is the only way to take partisanship out of the equation. Since this worked in BC some 15 years ago (with the exception of Gordon Campbell moving the goal posts) this is how it should have been done again in BC.

  17. Kathleen Gayle Harris says:

    Yes, I totally agree with this strategy. I see it as more than party cooperation and more as putting partisan politics after the greater good- recognizing that we are all on the same team as humanity intimately connected and dependant on the land, water, and other life that sustains us.

    As a previous BC Green party MLA candidate (who did not ‘win’ but won double the votes of the previous Green candidate), I think a critical piece to keep front and centre, and the main reason I choice to represent the interests of all people under Green rather than NDP), is that the Greens do not have a party whip that forces them to confirm to the dominant stance the party is taking. An NDP MLA is essentially disempowered to oppose the party even if it means he/she is working in opposition to the majority of the people who voted that person in. Site C and now TM pipeline is a good examples.

    This situation is in complete defiance of the way our provincial electoral democracy was established. We in BC, contrary to what we see happening, are supposed to have equal representation and equal say from each riding in BC. Our system was not created to have a single powerful leader, but rather, a collective and cooperative of jurisdictional representation. Hence, ONLY the Green party allows their MLA to truly give voice to what is important to their riding. Coastal ridings must be able to use their voice to protect their coastal livelihoods, communities, and environments. NDP and Liberal MLAs are not affectively able to do this with party whips.
    Please consider this issue when you go to vote. Regardless of if you vote Green, demand the end of party whips that enforce partisan politics and suppress regional voice and power.

  18. Kathleen Gayle Harris says:

    I believe Dogwood, on paper, tries to be non-partisan- so to be issue-centred. Previously, I felt a leaning of Dogwood towards the NDP. In this article, I am sensing a shift. The NDP have not shown an ability to act responsible for the environment/climate crisis. Perhaps, we should give the Greens a chance to act responsibly for our social/human environments, since many talk of the overlap in their positions. I’m not seeing that there is anything to loose.

  19. Onni Milne says:

    I see how the NDP operates as two NDP Premiers walked from the Premier’s office into Jimmy Pattison’s office – Dave Barrett, Glen Clark. When Gordon Campbell was re-elected in Vancouver-Point Grey, MLA Corky Evans railed that the Greens had stopped an NDP win there. He cleverly forgot to mention that, if all the NDP voters had voted Green, Campbell would have been defeated. I stopped voting NDP and voted for David Eby not the NDP until now. Never again as I see “business as usual” is the name of their game, no matter what the MLA’s name is.

  20. Karl Maier says:

    Trying to manipulate (by-)elections by limiting voters’ choices is unlikely to be adopted by the parties and may even backfire with the voters.

    Instead of “cunning plans”, tell people to join a party – any of them – and press it to adopt a serious climate action plan. That way, no matter what the election outcome, the needed work gets done.

  21. I would love to see voters scrap voting party lines and start supporting the best and strongest candidates. I am currently a member of the Green Party and was active in my EDA for the Federal Election. We did not really split the vote much as we had a strong NDP Candidate who has won the last three elections. I agree that too much effort was put into fielding candidates in all ridings rather than focusing on strong candidates in specific ridings. The Green Wave became a minor trickle and results were disappointing. Greens are the only party with a mandate to address climate change but also have strong policy to support social justice, renewable energy, economic growth and lessening the influence of big money in politics. I don’t expect them to form government but believe it is essential to have more representatives at all levels of government to keep them accountable. If I had a dollar for every person I spoke to who said they liked the Greens and their candidate but did not want to split the vote I’d be rich. I also wonder how we get all those people who don’t vote and feel the system does not care about or represent them to vote.

  22. S Haegedorn says:

    Thank you. Yes, Sustainable employment – is more and more important for workers, the economy and communities. Too much monetary capital has been fleeing from our communities for far too long.

  23. S Haegedorn says:

    Thanks for this. Also, thanking you for citing the publication by the Osgoode Law Prof (2012) on the effects of the DEAL Canada signed with China. I am of the opinion that this is likely causing the BC Government some real problems. With INTERNATIONAL CONGLOMERATE INVESTOR Protections, the MONEY LENDERS come into play. Apparently, Premier Horgan was ‘threatened’ that the Credit Rating of the PROVINCE OF BC would drop if SITE ‘C’ did not proceed.

    Very unfortunate.

  24. Roberta Clair says:

    I think this is a good approach, though Proportional Representation or Democratic Reform is what we need and it continues to be so hard to get, provincially and federally.

  25. Josef Kuhn says:

    This discussion and all I’ve learned about the BC political horror show since returning four years ago reinforce a strong, growing feeling I’ve had for many years. The only way we can protect the well-being of our eco-systems, ecological and economic, and B.C. people, especially our young people, is to have a Green Democratic Party that can stand up to the Liberals and Conservatives. If the Greens and NDP stay split, we have no chance.

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