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ANALYSIS: Andrew Weaver’s departure from BC Green caucus leaves gaping hole

Former Green Party leader to sit as independent
Former Green Party leader Andrew Weaver has announced that he'll now sit as an independent in the legislature. Richard Zussman has the personal reasons for his decision.

When the B.C. legislature resumed sitting this week there was a minor alignment of the assembly’s seating plan, but it carries with it potentially major implications.

Former Green Party leader Andrew Weaver’s desk has moved to a different location, putting some distance between himself and his former Green MLA colleagues Adam Olsen and Sonia Furstenau.

Weaver will now sit as an Independent MLA and will no longer be part of the Green caucus. He will also not be attending the spring legislative session that often, as his top priority is dealing with a serious illness that has befallen a member of his family.

READ MORE: MLA Andrew Weaver quitting Green caucus due to family health issues

However, Weaver tells me he will be there during any vote of confidence facing the NDP government. There is usually only one or two a year — the main budget bill, and perhaps the throne speech if it is put to a vote — so his absence shouldn’t pose too much of a problem on that front.

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However, his shift to Independent status is more of a problem for the Greens. Weaver is a genuinely historical B.C. political figure and the party owes its very existence in the legislature to his legacy.

Weaver’s breakthrough as a winning Green Party candidate in the 2013 election put the party on the map and bestowed a legitimacy that was lacking before his victory.

Andrew Weaver announces plans to step down as leader of the Green Party
Andrew Weaver announces plans to step down as leader of the Green Party

His departure from the caucus — he is keeping his party membership card, for now but not forever — robs it of its top performer and strongest asset. His charismatic personality allowed his party to receive a disproportionate amount of media coverage (most of it positive) over the years.

Weaver previously announced he won’t seek re-election in the 2021 election, which will likely mean the Green Party will be considered an underdog by many in his riding of Oak Bay-Gordon Head in that electoral contest. Until Weaver took the seat in 2013, it had been a BC Liberal stronghold for more than a dozen years and an NDP seat for a dozen years before that.

It is hard to see how the Greens will find a candidate to match Weaver’s profile and the loyalty that voters in that riding seem to apply to him more than his former party. In fact, it is entirely possible that the Greens hit their high water mark under Weaver’s leadership, and growing in electoral size may prove to be an elusive goal.

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READ MORE: BC Green Party leadership: Who will replace Andrew Weaver?

It will now be interesting to watch how the two remaining Green MLAs interact with the NDP government. From the moment they agreed to a power arrangement that allowed the NDP to form government in the aftermath of the 2017 election, Weaver and Premier John Horgan have developed a strong personal relationship and genuinely appear to like each other.

However, neither Horgan, nor any member of his caucus, seem to have the same kind of relationship with either Olsen or Furstenau.

In fact, I doubt Horgan is very appreciative of Olsen’s public backing of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who are leading an attempt to kill a natural gas pipeline through their traditional territory (even though their Nation supports it).

BC Greens announce they will support NDP government
BC Greens announce they will support NDP government

Olsen has flown north to meet with the chiefs and then declared his support of their efforts. Horgan and the NDP, of course, strongly back the construction of that pipeline (as does every single First Nation along the pipeline route).

As this dispute heats up and even gets out of hand — it has already exacted an economic toll because of blockades at both the Port of Vancouver and Deltaport — tensions between the Greens and the ruling NDP may heighten.

READ MORE: Andrew Weaver to step down as B.C. Green Party leader in January

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Horgan has talked about the need for everyone to follow “the rule of law,” a position the Greens do not seem to support.

While there is no suggestion the Greens will withdraw their support from the NDP government, it appears that party is headed towards a more activist path, one not championed by former leader Weaver.

However, he is sitting somewhere else in the legislature chamber now. And the Greens are the poorer for it.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC