Baldrey: can Andrew Weaver have a Gordon Wilson moment?

Green Party leader Andrew Weaver wants history to repeat itself.

More specifically, next spring he wants to see a replay of the 1991 election campaign where the then-third party shot to prominence and finished second, chiefly because of the performance of its party leader in the televised leaders’ debate during the campaign.

In other words, Weaver wants to “pull a Gordon Wilson” and take advantage of any dissatisfaction voters may have with both the ruling BC Liberals and the opposition New Democrats.

He chuckled when I put that suggestion to him recently, but he did say he intends to focus on what he calls the “dichotomy of dysfunction” that he says has strangled the B.C. legislature and the political process itself.

That take, of course, mirrors Wilson’s line during the 1991 debate when he pointed at NDP leader Mike Harcourt and Social Credit leader Rita Johnston as they squabbled over some issue and famously said: “This is why nothing ever gets done in the province of British Columbia.”

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Of course, Weaver will need a lot of things to break his way if he wants same kind of payoff enjoyed by Wilson, who took his BC Liberal party to Official Opposition status.

Back then, Wilson took advantage of voter fatigue with a tremendously scandal-plagued government beset by brutal internal problems, and many Socred voters simply went over and backed the other “free enterprise party” in the race.

But for all the controversies hovering over the current BC Liberal government, there’s hardly much of a parallel to the 1991 situation. For one thing, Christy Clark lurched from one controversy to another before the 2013 election and still won handsomely. Plus, any internal problems plaguing her government – and there were some serious ones – disappeared with the successful election result.

However, Weaver is clearly hoping the continuing struggles of the NDP to establish a coherent election platform will allow him an opening and a chance to appeal to those who are tired of the BC Liberals but remain very unsure about the NDP alternative.

The NDP still has yet to square how it will support industry, particularly the natural resource industry, while at the same time not alienating the environmental activists who appear to have taken over the a significant portion of the party. It’s a ticking time bomb for the party, and Weaver seems to sense this.

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In fact, other than attacking the BC Liberals for their record on fighting climate change and their insistence on promoting a liquefied natural gas industry, Weaver spends much of his time blasting the NDP’s policies, an approach he will likely continue through the next campaign.

NDP leader John Horgan insists the Green Party drains votes almost entirely from the BC Liberals. He’s about the only one who thinks that, and Weaver says his party gets support right across the political spectrum.

But if the NDP hopes to form government, it can’t afford to lose any votes to the Green Party even if that party does bleed some support from the BC Liberal side. A slight uptick in Green Party fortunes could cost the NDP several of the seats it currently has, most notably Saanich North and the Islands, which was a genuine close three-way race in 2013, with the Greens narrowly missing out on victory.

In any event, the NDP seems to spend a lot of time fretting about Weaver and the Greens. They cut off debate on the premier’s office spending estimates before Weaver could be involved, which led to Weaver accusing Horgan of behaving in a “cowardly” manner.

In contrast, Clark takes every opportunity to sing Weaver’s praises and raise his public profile (in an almost unheard of move, she recently supported his call for legislation mandating universities to have clear and concise policies for dealing with sexual assaults on campus) so she clearly sees any vote for the Greens as one less for the NDP.

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I’m not yet convinced Weaver will indeed have his “Gordon Wilson moment.” But he will try to fashion one, and the ones who should be most worried about it happening are the New Democrats and their leader.

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