A look back at the birth of the B.C. Green Party

The B.C. Greens have been in place for 34 years now, yet many of the initial criticisms remain. But many agree the party has also changed and evolved.

Former party leader and political scientists reflect on party's changes in the past 34 years

Adriane Carr, left, was only 30 years old when she officially formed the B.C. Green Party in 1983. (CBC)

Adriane Carr clearly remembers the moment in 1982 when she decided to found the B.C. Green Party.

Carr, then a 30-year-old geography teacher at Langara College, was a card-carrying member of the opposition NDP.

At a political convention she had tried — and failed — to convince the NDP to oppose the logging permits the governing Social Credit Party had approved in sensitive ecological areas like the Stein Valley.

"We went out basically to cry over a cold beer in terms of how that convention turned out, then I opened the newspaper and there was an article that said 'Greens win first seats in Germany,'" said Carr, now the lone Green Party member at Vancouver City Council.

"It was really that sense of complete frustration with the current major parties in B.C., coupled with this incredible excitement and hope that there was this political movement in other countries ... that had such compelling founding principles."

'We were neophytes'

The party officially formed in February 1983, just two months before a provincial election. 

"As a start-up party in 1983 we were neophytes. We were enthusiastic but we didn't have breadth of experience in terms of campaigning and elections," Carr said, emphasizing that's no longer the case. 

At the time, many criticized the party for appearing to run on a single issue and not having a fully-encompassing platform. 

Here's a video originally broadcast in 1983 that covers some of those concerns:

Despite four candidates nominated and an growing membership list, critics say the Green Party has yet to have put policies in place. 4:55

The B.C. Greens have been in place for 34 years now, yet many of the initial criticisms remain. But many agree the party has also changed and evolved. 

Norman Ruff, associate professor emeritus in political science at the University of Victoria, attended some of the Green Party's first meetings in 1983.

Ruff says about 100 people attended at the time. But he says a more recent rally he went to drew a crowd 10 times that size. 

"Suddenly the penny dropped and I thought, 'Oh this is not the grassroots movement I used to know.' It's now a broad political party and it's broadened the perception of the brand," he said. 

B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver is photographed outside the Legislature Library in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, April 3, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The Green Party went through a tumultuous period after Carr stepped down in 1985 and the party cycled through various leaders, Ruff points out.

But he says that changed as the Greens morphed from a small, grassroots environmental movement to a more formal party — especially with the advent of its current leader, Andrew Weaver, in 2013. 

"He certainly took to it and he's proved himself a very effective member and certainly effective in terms of raising the profile of the greens," Ruff said. 

'Infancy stage'

With the Greens now in the B.C. Legislature, Ruff said that has given the party an opportunity to speak on a broader set of issues. 

But historian and former B.C. Liberal MLA David Mitchell says the Greens still have a ways to go before establishing themselves as a serious political contender. 

"I think it's safe to say we're still in the infancy stage of the Green Party," Mitchell said.

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver with supporters at a party rally. (Peter Scobie/CBC)

Both Mitchell and Ruff point out that the first-past-the-post system will make it challenging for the Greens to gain many seats. 

However, they also acknowledge that it's not impossible.

Mitchell can personally attest to this. He was convinced in 1991 that he would be the lone winning candidate for the relatively new Liberal Party at the time. The party went on to win a total of 17 seats. 

"Those were extraordinary circumstances but might not be unique," Mitchell said.