This is the third part of a three-part series of profiles on the leaders of B.C.’s major political parties in the run-up to the provincial election on Oct. 24. Check out our profiles on BC NDP leader John Horgan and BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson.
On Sept. 14, Sonia Furstenau won the BC Green Party leadership. On Sept. 21, she found herself in the midst of a provincial election campaign.
Talk about a week to remember.
After coming out on top in a field of three leadership hopefuls, Furstenau’s first order of business was to try and convince BC NDP Leader John Horgan that the Greens would continue to support his government in the legislature. Horgan called the election anyway.
Since then, Furstenau has been focused on trying to convince voters another minority government is what is needed.
“Honestly I think I should be one of the people that should be leading this province. I think leadership is best when it is not all in one person’s hands,” Furstenau said.
“I think leadership is best when it is recognized as something that is inclusive, that is inviting of different ideas. My approach to leadership has never been, ‘I have all the answers.'”
Furstenau first came on the provincial political scene in 2014 when she led the charge against soil dumping above Shawnigan Lake. In her fight to protect clean water for her Vancouver Island community, she ran for local government, organized rallies and fought for the province to revoke the company’s permit.
The permit was cancelled in 2017.
That same year, in the midst of her advocacy work, she decided to run for the BC Greens — becoming part of the record-breaking group of three Green MLAs.
The 50-year-old’s first big responsibility after winning election was as a member of the Green negotiating team working to select whether they would support the NDP or the BC Liberals in forming government. Furstenau had such a strong reaction to contemplating supporting the Liberals and then-leader Christy Clark that she vomited in her Victoria room.
She describes her own leadership skills as “relentless curiosity” and has an intense focus on listening.
“Every day I come to terms with how much I don’t know. But I can always be in a place of wanting to learn more and wanting to do better,” Furstenau said.
“And the foundational piece for me in all of this, from the moment I leaned into the work in Shawnigan (is) … it’s not about me, it is about how I can use my skills and what I learned and how I can use that to serve the people of my community.”
Family is incredibly important to Furstenau. Her father was born in East Germany in 1939 just before World War II. His father died in a prisoner of war camp and his mother got typhoid. She survived and he moved with his family in his teenage years to Sidney.
Furstenau’s dad taught himself English, got himself through school and pushed his daughter with the mantra that education was everything.
“He instilled in me a passion for democracy because democracy is the opposite of what happened in East Germany,” Furstenau said.
On the other side of the family, the Green Party leader brings up her grandmother. She was raised on Saturna Island and is still a great inspiration to Furstenau.
“She was a feminist before we knew what feminism was,” Furstenau said. “She was an incredibly fierce and incredible woman.”
The mother of five — three biological children and two step-children — is using her own experience to navigate the campaign trail.
Her 26-year-old son Nicholas is on the campaign with her, taking pictures and helping run the digital side of the campaign.
Her best friend Maeve is with her on the campaign as well, in what Furstenau describes as their “little bubble.”
“If it just relentless joy,” she said.
It was the challenge of raising Nicholas as a single parent that helped shape her, she says: struggling through trying to figure out where she would be living with her son and how she would pay the bills.
“It deeply undermined my ability to be the best parent, to be the best student or to be the best worker, because I always had to have a job going on at those times,” Furstenau said.
“Understanding what it is like to judge all these things. Having the financial pressures, trying to move forward and get the education needed to get a good job. That is my experience, I get that. But I have to seek out and listen to others.”
The highlight of Furstenau’s campaign so far has been the televised debate. She was able to introduce herself to a provincial crowd by taking on Horgan while also reflecting on her own white privilege.
It is also hard to realize when watching that she put herself in a tough situation. Furstenau was expecting her questions for the other leaders to be on a teleprompter, but it was a screen she couldn’t see from her podium. She also didn’t have the questions with her on the stage — forcing her to wing it.
“I was in denial. ‘This can’t be happening,’ I thought. I wrote a note and I held it up to (advisor) Evan (Pivnick) but he couldn’t read it all the way in the back,” Furstenau said.
Furstenau is now hoping the next time she is on the stage, with a bulk of the province watching, is on election night as she celebrates the victories of some new caucus colleagues.