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BC Election 2017
BC Politics

Green Votes Could Hand Clark Victory, Warns Tzeporah Berman

NDP would be ‘a huge leap forward’ on climate change, environment, says activist.

Doug Ward 1 May

Doug Ward is a Vancouver-based freelance writer who was previously a reporter with the Vancouver Sun.

This report is part of The Tyee’s reader-funded B.C. 2017 election coverage. To learn more about becoming a Tyee Builder, go here.

Prominent eco-activist Tzeporah Berman fears that a rise in Green Party support in the provincial election could return Premier Christy Clark and the BC Liberals to power, which she says would be a disaster for climate change and environmental policy in B.C.

Berman is backing the New Democrats who, she argued, have adopted excellent policies on all key environmental issues, including carbon tax increases — and could form government, unlike the Green Party, which has only one seat.

In 2009 Berman attacked NDP leader Carole James for opposing the carbon tax introduced by then premier Gordon Campbell, saying the NDP was “playing politics with our children’s future.” Berman told The Tyee last week that the NDP has undergone “some serious soul-searching” and is now committed to using the carbon tax as a tool to limit climate change.

The activist, who became famous in the early 1990s as one of the leaders of logging blockades in Clayoquot Sound, also criticized eco-icon David Suzuki for endorsing the Greens over the NDP in this election.

“I think his endorsement is dangerous and shortsighted because, like it or not, support for the Greens could very well help to ensure another four years of Christy Clark,” said Berman. “I was surprised because an NDP government would be a huge leap forward on climate change, protecting our coast from increased tanker traffic, ending grizzly hunting and more.”

While many media commentators have praised Green Party leader Andrew Weaver for his performance in last week’s leaders’ debate, Berman criticized him for his attacks on NDP leader John Horgan and for promoting a false equivalency between corporate support for the BC Liberals and union support for the NDP.

“I think Andrew hit a low bar in his political career in the debate when he taunted John about getting mad at him — John was cool as a cucumber at the time — and when he tried to make it seem as though union donations to the NDP where equivalent to the millions of dollars Christy has gotten from big corporations.”

Berman said that the BC Liberals approved the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion and the Woodfibre LNG project in Howe Sound after receiving huge donations from those companies.

“She (Clark) has taken more corporate money than any government in Canadian history and it’s astonishing that it’s not a scandal bringing down the party.”

Clark appointed Berman in 2015 to serve on her Climate Leadership Team, which produced a series of recommendations – which were ignored by the BC Liberal government.

“I was honestly confused after we tabled our climate recommendations why we couldn’t get traction discussing them and working them out in the months that followed, but now it’s clear to me,” said Berman. “You pay to play with the BC Liberals and her biggest donors did not want a climate policy.”

Kathryn Harrison, a political scientist and climate change policy expert at the University of British Columbia, said “it’s not surprising that there’s concern in the environmental community about splitting the ‘small-g’ green vote.”

“Indeed, I’d say that the potential for the Green Party to siphon votes away from the also-green parties is a long-standing concern in the environmental community, and not just in B.C.,” she said.

However, Harrison said the impact of the Green Party in the upcoming election is not “straightforward.”

“It would not be surprising if many disaffected Liberals would vote Green rather than the NDP, a party they have opposed for decades. The nature of the Greens’ impact also is likely to vary from riding to riding. In some cases, they could disproportionately take votes from the NDP, in others from the Liberals, and in still others they could draw on historical non-voters or new voters.”

Here are excerpts of Berman’s interview with The Tyee:

The Tyee: Many voters who have the environment near the top of their concerns are supporting or considering voting for the Green Party. Why aren’t you?

Berman: “I think the most important thing for our climate is a change in government. There is no question that Dr. Weaver is a brilliant scientist and that the Green Party has a good climate plan. And on a personal level, if I lived in Weaver’s riding, I would probably vote for him. But we now have an NDP platform that is very strong on climate and other critical environmental issues. And they have a very good chance of becoming government.”

So you fear that vote-splitting among British Columbians opposed to the BC Liberal environmental record could mean victory for Christy Clark?

“Yes, I am extremely worried about it. I think there are a lot of folks out there who prioritize these issues, who could be swayed by Dr. Weaver and the Green Party, and I worry their votes could give us another four years of the BC Liberals. And that would be a disaster for our climate and our coast.”

How many seats do you think the Green Party could win?

“I don’t know. The number of mistakes with polling recently is crazy. But I will say that Dr. Weaver has played an important role in the legislature and if the Greens take another seat or two, that could be a good thing. But if they compete in too many ridings against the NDP, they will help elected Clark.”

Do you see any potential for a collaborative relationship between the NDP and the Greens in the future?

“I hope so. I’ve been dismayed by the number of times Dr. Weaver has supported the BC Liberals in the house. And, in this election, I wish they weren’t running so many candidates. I wish they would just focus on a couple of ridings, maybe get more Greens in the house, and not split the vote. But they haven’t done that.”

Two elections ago you attacked then NDP leader Carole James for opposing the carbon tax. What has made you change your mind about the NDP?

“Several elections ago the NDP used the carbon tax as a political football and weren’t taking climate change seriously. I’ve had a number of conversations with John Horgan and also MLA George Heyman who has worked really hard inside the party to come to terms with climate change and how we can set B.C. up for success.”

In the TV debate Clark doubled down on her opposition to the kind of carbon tax increases proposed by the NDP and the Greens. Is her opposition to those taxes pure politics?

“It is pure politics. She is doing exactly what Carole James did many years ago, which is fear-mongering. The fiscal plan that our Climate Leadership Team put in front of her showed that we can balance out the cost of a carbon tax and reduce emissions — and she has ignored that data and that plan.”

Do you think Clark would ever have employed the carbon tax if it hadn’t already been put in place by Gordon Campbell, her BC Liberal predecessor?

“No, I think the BC Liberals introduced the first carbon tax in North America because of the leadership of Gordon Campbell. He understood the threat of climate change. I don’t think Christy Clark understands or has the courage to look forward instead of backwards. Her economic plan relies on propping up dinosaurs, extractive industries. She is stuck in the past but also looking for quick fixes. Her dismal LNG strategy is the prime example.

We’ve missed the boat on LNG. We were 10 years too late. And now she is holding onto a bunch of promises and empty dreams.”  [Tyee]

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