Po­lit­i­cal Sci­en­tist

An­drew Weaver won in­ter­na­tional ac­claim for his re­search on cli­mate change, which now poses a threat to his BC Green Party’s al­liance with the NDP

BC Business Magazine - - Contents - by RICHARD LIT­TLE­MORE por­trait by POOYA NABEI

BC Green Party Leader An­drew Weaver forged a con­struc­tive al­liance with the NDP. Will LNG de­vel­op­ment prompt the renowned cli­mate sci­en­tist to scut­tle that pact? by Richard Lit­tle­more

It’s a hot Au­gust day, and BC Green Party Leader An­drew Weaver is drip­ping. We’ve been walk­ing all af­ter­noon in the Van­cou­ver Pride Pa­rade, and his rum­pled rain­bow shirt is sweat-stained and stick­ing to his back. Even his bat­tered cow­boy hat be­trays the hand­i­work of the Den­man Street squirt-gun­ners, who were fir­ing wel­come vol­leys of re­fresh­ing wa­ter.

In the grand po­lit­i­cal tra­di­tion, Weaver has been shak­ing ev­ery out­stretched hand, stop­ping—and smil­ing—for self­ies, and hand­ing out in­for­ma­tional cards on pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion—or flick­ing those cards, with amaz­ing ac­cu­racy, to peo­ple lean­ing from bal­conies or sec­ond-storey win­dows. He’s got a broad, en­gag­ing smile and a boy­ish en­thu­si­asm; you can tell that he finds the card-flick­ing, es­pe­cially, to be great fun. But as the pa­rade pauses along Beach Av­enue, we come to a halt: the smile fades, the shoul­ders droop, the rain­bow shirt clings a lit­tle closer. And I say, “So, An­drew: is this your favourite part of pol­i­tics? Least favourite?”

Weaver looks back, the fa­tigue now show­ing on his face, and says, “I’m a pol­icy guy. I’d rather be sit­ting at a desk, work­ing on a so­lu­tion.” Then, col­lect­ing him­self, he adds, “But this is won­der­ful. I love talk­ing to peo­ple, and the re­ac­tion is great. We wouldn’t have got this five years ago. Peo­ple want to vote for the Green Party.”

Five years ago—2013—marks the point where Weaver, the now- 57-year- old, Vic­to­ria-born hus­band and fa­ther of two, tran­si­tioned from be­ing one of the most ad­mired and ar­tic­u­late cli­mate sci­en­tists in Canada, ar­guably in the whole world, to be­ing a politi­cian, a nec­es­sar­ily self­pro­mot­ing ad­vo­cate, not just for the health of the planet, but for the for­tunes of his own as­pir­ing po­lit­i­cal party.

Sci­ence, as Weaver prac­tised it when he was still the No­bel Peace Prize–shar­ing Canada Re­search Chair in Cli­mate Modelling and Anal­y­sis at Uvic, is the un­fet­tered and un­com­pro­mis­ing pur­suit of knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing. You ask your ques­tions in the form of ad­vanced ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and you pub­lish your re­sults, so your sci­en­tific peers may adopt new con­clu­sions or tear your re­search to shreds, de­pend­ing upon its ro­bust­ness. It’s all out in the open and, the oil in­dus­try’s de­nial cam­paign not­with­stand­ing, all black and white.

Pol­i­tics, on the other hand, is all com­pro­mise. As Weaver dis­cov­ered in ne­go­ti­at­ing a work­ing agree­ment with BC New Demo­cratic Party Leader (and, thanks to Weaver, Pre­mier) John Hor­gan, ev­ery­thing is about the give and take. And as you com­pro­mise, you are com­pro­mised.


That was cer­tainly borne out late last year, when the NDP en­dorsed con­tin­u­ing con­struc­tion on the con­tro­ver­sial Site C dam project and Weaver and his two Green col­leagues stood by. Erst­while Green Party sup­port­ers were apoplec­tic—not least the per­son who might have been Weaver’s high­est-pro­file ad­mirer up till that point.

En­vi­ron­men­tal icon David Suzuki’s view of “Dr. An­drew Weaver” had al­ways been clear and favourable. “I’m a big fan of An­drew’s,” Suzuki said in a 2011 Weaver pro­file in Bcbusi­ness. “He’s one of the few Cana­dian sci­en­tists right now who’s will­ing to put his life on the line and speak out.” But af­ter Weaver ducked on Site C, Suzuki told An­drew Mcleod at The Tyee that he thought Weaver had sold out in the hopes of keep­ing the NDP in power long enough to win sup­port for a new pro­vin­cial sys­tem of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion. “Now, pol­i­tics comes be­fore prin­ci­ple,” Suzuki said. “So I’m re­ally dis­il­lu­sioned.”

Sit­ting in a cof­fee shop on that same Au­gust day, Weaver shrugs when the com­ment comes up. What, he asks, would have been the point of bring­ing down the govern­ment and trig­ger­ing a new elec­tion when both the NDP and the BC Lib­er­als sup­port con­tin­u­ing with Site C? Vot­ers likely would have re­treated to one of the ma­jor par­ties, de­liv­er­ing a clear ma­jor­ity to a Site C sup­porter, and the Greens would have lost both the ar­gu­ment and their lever­age on­go­ing.

Be­sides, Weaver says, Site C was not on the list of com­mit­ments that the Greens ex­tracted from the NDP when they made the 2017 Con­fi­dence and Sup­ply Agree­ment

(CASA) that al­lowed the NDP to lead a func­tional coali­tion govern­ment, de­spite hav­ing fewer seats than the Lib­er­als.

That agree­ment, and the re­la­tion­ship on which it was built, con­tin­ues to stand— though soon enough it may wob­ble.

Weaver at­tributes the orig­i­nal CASA suc­cess to two fac­tors: the Lib­eral Party’s fail­ure to bring any­thing to the ta­ble; and John Hor­gan’s will­ing­ness to work past some trou­bled his­tory and make firm com­mit­ments on the is­sues that mat­tered most to the Greens. To the first point, Weaver says that he had a longer, bet­ter re­la­tion­ship with the Lib­er­als, based in part on his ad­mi­ra­tion for ex-pre­mier Gor­don Camp­bell’s lead­er­ship in in­tro­duc­ing the first car­bon tax in North Amer­ica. But Camp­bell’s suc­ces­sor, Christy Clark, had been un­der­min­ing B.C.’S ad­mirable cli­mate poli­cies and seemed dis­in­ter­ested in ne­go­ti­at­ing a deal with the Greens. Even to­day, Weaver says, “The Lib­er­als still don’t un­der­stand that they lost the elec­tion.”

As to the sec­ond point, when the May 2017 elec­tion pro­duced a dead­lock, with the Greens hold­ing the bal­ance of power, Weaver and Hor­gan were barely on speak­ing terms. Af­ter the NDP’S nar­row loss to the Lib­er­als in 2013, many New Democrats (per­haps in­clud­ing Hor­gan) blamed the Greens, imag­in­ing that Weaver and com­pany had ap­pro­pri­ated part of “the NDP vote.” There­after, Hor­gan, as the NDP House Leader, seemed do ev­ery­thing in his power to deny air­time to Weaver, the lone Green mem­ber of the leg­isla­tive assem­bly (MLA). They were not friends.

But as it turned out, the two men are both rugby afi­ciona­dos—the kind of no-holds­barred com­bat­ants who like noth­ing more than spend­ing the af­ter­noon blood­y­ing one an­other’s noses and then re­tir­ing to the bar to­gether for a few cold ones. Hor­gan (see p.30) now de­scribes that to-and-fro in gen­teel and diplo­matic terms: “An­drew and I know we can be very di­rect with each other—we have to be. We get on very well, and I ap­pre­ci­ate his per­spec­tive, even when we dis­agree.”

The CASA ne­go­ti­a­tions were a turn­ing point, Hor­gan says. “An­drew and I worked through pol­icy is­sues and found out how much we have in com­mon. The re­la­tion­ship— even with the oc­ca­sional ups and downs—has only deep­ened since then. I think we’re both aware our agree­ment is break­ing new ground, and the re­spon­si­bil­ity is both in­tim­i­dat­ing and ex­cit­ing.”

In short, Hor­gan and Weaver have built the kind of deep and abid­ing trust that

Liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas: the in­dus­try al­ready un­did Christy Clark, who over­promised and then crashed when no LNG plants were ap­proved dur­ing her ten­ure. Weaver ar­gues that this is­sue could also prove the un­do­ing of the NDP. It cer­tainly could undo the Green– NDP coali­tion

pre­vails when you know that the other per­son may, at any mo­ment, snatch up the ball and run away.


Still, the func­tional NDP- Green coali­tion has made head­way on pol­icy is­sues of mu­tual in­ter­est, in­clud­ing elec­toral, lob­by­ing, en­vi­ron­men­tal and reg­u­la­tory re­form; child care; the Fair Wages Com­mis­sion; the ba­sic in­come pi­lot; and the in­no­va­tion com­mis­sion (In­no­vate BC). But two big is­sues hang in the bal­ance.

The first is the ref­er­en­dum on pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, an ini­tia­tive the Greens sup­port with full en­thu­si­asm. And why not? As Weaver points out, his party at­tracted al­most 17 per­cent of the pop­u­lar vote in 2017 but won only three of the leg­is­la­ture’s 87 seats. A pro­por­tional di­vi­sion would have given them 14 or 15.

The Lib­eral Party is dead set against the change, and again, why not? They and their So­cial Credit pre­de­ces­sors have ruled the prov­ince with 13 ma­jor­ity govern­ments since 1952, de­spite hav­ing only once won an ac­tual ma­jor­ity of the votes.

And the New Democrats are, at the very least, di­vided. While Hor­gan and his se­nior min­is­ters speak in favour of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, promi­nent mem­bers of the party are lead­ing the op­po­si­tion. Still, the vote be­longs to the peo­ple, and the ref­er­en­dum is un­likely to have an im­me­di­ate im­pact on Green sup­port for the NDP.

Cli­mate pol­icy is dif­fer­ent. This was the is­sue that brought Weaver to pol­i­tics and, un­like Site C, a ro­bust cli­mate change plan is a foun­da­tional part of the CASA. And in the sum­mer, he was still say­ing the NDP plan looked “great”—“un­less we con­tinue to pur­sue LNG.”

Liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas: the in­dus­try al­ready un­did for­mer Lib­eral pre­mier Christy Clark, who over­promised and then crashed when no LNG plants were ap­proved dur­ing her ten­ure. Weaver ar­gues that this is­sue could also prove the un­do­ing of the NDP. It cer­tainly could undo the Green- NDP coali­tion. As Royal Dutch Shell moves for­ward with its Kiti­mat fa­cil­ity, he says a proj- ect that blows up the NDP’S car­bon emis­sion prom­ises “would be an egre­gious breach of the Con­fi­dence and Sup­ply Agree­ment.”

Politi­cian or not, Weaver still has a math PHD, which pre­sents a prob­lem for an NDP ad­min­is­tra­tion that promised to lower green­house gas emis­sions by 40 per­cent be­fore 2030 and now pro­poses to add a mon­ster LNG plant that, all by it­self, could in­crease pro­vin­cial emis­sions by al­most one-third. As Pre­mier John Hor­gan was lin­ing up with Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and Shell to cel­e­brate the project, Weaver was say­ing it would be “the NDP’S prob­lem” to square that cir­cle—or lose his sup­port.

Re­turn­ing to David Suzuki: the en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist was blis­ter­ing about Weaver af­ter the Site C de­ci­sion but later sounded more philo­soph­i­cal, con­clud­ing, sadly, that “The prob­lem with politi­cians is pol­i­tics.” An­drew Weaver has man­aged that prob­lem well, so far. But be­tween the pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion ref­er­en­dum and the un­fold­ing LNG dy­nam­ics, the weather could turn foul by Christ­mas. Weaver may yet be happy for the ex­tra pro­tec­tion of an old hat.

An­drew Weaver (right) checks out the Site C dam project from a landowner‘s per­spec­tive POINTOF CON­TENTION

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