Green leadership contenders square off in local debate

B.C. Green Party supporters had a chance to hear from the three contenders for the party’s leadership Aug. 21 during a Powell River-Sunshine Coast riding association online debate.

Cam Brewer, a Vancouver-based lawyer and teacher at Simon Fraser University, Kim Darwin, a Sunshine Coast entrepreneur and 2017 Green candidate, and Sonia Furstenau, MLA for Cowichan Valley, expressed few differences when it came to broad policy issues, agreeing with the positions staked out by the party in the 2017 election.

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On BC Ferries, all three said the system needs to be brought back into government as a Crown corporation. They all also said they opposed the Site C project, the growth of the LNG industry and logging of old growth forests and raw log exports.

In fact, one question submitted during the debate pointed out their agreement on “so many of the issues” before asking how they each viewed the role of the leader, what they would bring to that role and how they’d work to “convince business owners, capitalists and federal Liberals to vote for the B.C. Greens.”

Brewer said he hopes to convince those voters “to embrace the fact that innovation in solutions includes enterprise-led solutions” and pointed to his ideas for a ministry of cooperatives, incubators and a “Green bank.”

Fursteneau said her record as an elected official at the local and provincial level was one of the key qualities she would bring to the leadership.

“And the years that I've had in the B.C. legislature, working very closely with the government and working very closely with the official opposition, building relationships,” Fursteneau added. “I'm absolutely ready because I've been doing it for three years.”

Darwin said as a successful entrepreneur she knows “how to speak the language of entrepreneurs.”

“Most of our gains were from disenfranchised B.C. Liberals that no longer trusted their party and wanted to see an economic transition to a just economy,” Darwin said. “They are the ones that we are going to have to be able to articulate our Green message to… If people think that the decisions that are going to be made by the party are going to take food off people’s table or money out of their pocket, we’re not going to be able to get them to buy in.”

Darwin, Fursteneau and Brewer also talked about their approach to leadership in addressing a question about how, as leader, they’d have handled the negative publicity in the wake of former leader Andrew Weaver’s criticism of MLAs Fursteneau and Adam Olsen.

“Sometimes we can find that when leaders step down as Andrew [Weaver] did and move on, they can have a hard time letting go,” Fursteneau replied. “But I think what you've seen in this summer session is a very renewed, very energized caucus, a two-person caucus of the B.C. Greens, and we have accomplished extraordinary things.”

Darwin said she continues to have a good relationship with the former leader. “As leader, if there were any relationship building that needed to be done, I absolutely commit to doing that relationship building… The key to good relationships is good communication; that is something that I have always had a skill with – building relationships, even in really difficult circumstances.”

Brewer acknowledged Weaver’s “incredible success” in the last election and said, “When conflicts happen within organizations, it’s the job of the leader to listen and to ensure that dialogue happens, but then move ahead… As leader you’ve got to listen and bring people together and focus on what we can actually do together.”

In a rebuttal, Darwin and Fursteneau offered opposing views on the value of having the leader sitting in caucus.

“This is why we need a leader who is not currently in caucus,” Darwin said. “Sonia and Adam have been doing amazing work [in the legislature] the last few weeks... We only have two MLs who can do that work. You can’t expect somebody to do that work internally, especially in October and November [when] Sonia will be busy doing that [legislative] work. We can’t lose two months for building our team of MLA candidates for the next election.”

Fursteneau said she would expect Darwin and Brewer to seek election if they win the leadership. “It is in the house, it is as an elected person, that we show our best work as B.C. Greens and it is essential that going into this next election we have a leader that has the experience and the understanding of how the legislature works and what we can accomplish.”

On Aug. 24, three days after the Powell River-Sunshine Coast debate, Brewer announced Weaver was joining his 11-member advisory council to provide input on issues around climate policy and science.

The party’s main leadership debate is scheduled for Sept. 1.

Online and telephone voting, using a ranked ballot system, will run from Sept. 5 to 13, with the winner to be announced Sept. 14. 

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