Governing Liberal party flatters Greens by borrowing leader's ideas

Ahead of next week's provincial budget, Liberal Finance Minister Mike de Jong offered Green Party leader Andrew Weaver the greatest compliment you can on the legislature floor: He might actually be prepared to borrow his ideas.

The one-seat Green Party is gaining traction in the B.C. legislature

Federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May and Oak Bay/Gordon Head B.C. Green Party MLA candidate Andrew Weaver brave the elements to wave at traffic and speak to people in Victoria Monday May 13, 2013. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Andrew Weaver doesn't live in Metro Vancouver. He doesn't work in Metro Vancouver. He doesn't own a home in Metro Vancouver.

So you might think the Green Party leader's chances of being able to solve Metro Vancouver's housing crisis are about as good as, say, having the B.C. Liberal government actually heed the advice of one of its political opponents.

Turns out you'd be wrong.

Both things happened this week. Ahead of next week's budget, Liberal Finance Minister Mike de Jong offered Weaver the greatest compliment you can on the legislature floor: He might actually be prepared to borrow his ideas.

"I am cautiously optimistic that when the member has an opportunity to see some of the provisions of the budget that will be tabled on Tuesday of next week, he will find at least some aspects of that document ... that will respond to some of the concerns that he's outlined today," said de Jong.

For the Green Party, this week could signify a breakthrough of sorts — an understanding that the government may be more willing to adopt ideas from the Green Party — a party with just one seat, than from the opposition NDP, which has more than 30 seats.

Pitch timed well

Weaver has spent the last two years coming up with, and presenting ideas on housing — but this specific pitch couldn't have come at a better time, with Metro Vancouver housing prices also at an all time high.

His housing proposals come from a close examination of loopholes and plotting out ways to change them.

"Speculation in Vancouver's housing market is not a new issue," says Weaver. "However, there are a number of steps the provincial government could take right now to clamp down on this out-of-control problem."

B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong, tables the budget in the Legislative Assembly in Victoria, B.C., Tuesday February 17, 2015 as Premier Christy Clark (left) applauds. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

At a policy level what Weaver is proposing is three pronged.

The first step is to close a loophole which allows individuals to avoid paying B.C.'s Property Transfer Tax. The second is a tax on vacant properties. And the third is a requirement for buyers to provide residency on the land title.

"It is important to know who is buying houses," says Weaver. "We have no idea. It is really just making stuff up as we go along without any real information."

Normally, opposition member's bill pitches head straight for the dustbin of legislative history. But the fact de Jong is listening signifies more than just a government's willingness to learn from others.

It points to the fact that the Green Party is gaining traction. Earlier this week, Weaver introduced a petition to abolish MSP with 65,712 names on it. The public pressure from that petition led to Premier Christy Clark acknowledging, "It's antiquated, it's old, the way people pay for it doesn't make a lot of sense."

It also opened the door for the Liberals to adopt a policy the Greens have already called their own, which is to change the way the tax is paid entirely.

It's the job of opposition to pitch solutions

"The government does not respond directly to a political party," says Weaver. "The government responds directly to public pressure.

"It is in the interests of opposition parties to actually offer solutions."

But this goes beyond just housing or MSP ideas.

"For the provincial Liberals to be seen acknowledging good ideas from Andrew Weaver and therefore the Green Party is a smart political move for them," says University of Victoria political scientist Michael Prince. "For the B.C. Liberals, looking for a fifth term, they are trying to look fresher.

"Implementing some ideas from the Green Party is not a re-branding but more of a repositioning of ideas."

Weaver himself acknowledges the NDP has ideas that the Liberals have adopted, specifically the use of a bus to transport people along the so-called Highway of Tears. It's an issue the NDP has brought up for years that was only recently brought in by the government.

But on an issue like housing, one that affects hundreds of thousands in Metro Vancouver, the stakes seem to be amplified.

That is why the Liberals seem more willing to go Green.


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