British Columbia

B.C. Liberals and Greens turn to new strategies after byelection defeat

B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver knew he was in trouble long before the results of the Nanaimo byelection started trickling in on Wednesday evening.

Greens search for answers while Liberals search for younger candidates heading into next election

B.C. Green party leader Andrew Weaver introduced a private members bill to cap MLA terms at three. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver knew his party was in trouble long before the results of the Nanaimo byelection started trickling in Wednesday evening.

In the weeks leading up the vote, Weaver visited Nanaimo frequently to campaign for Green candidate Michele Ney.

Many of the people he talked to on doorsteps and in coffee shops told Weaver what he didn't want to hear — there were two choices and his party wasn't one of them.

"I spent a lot of time in Nanaimo campaigning with Michele," Weaver said.

"Many members, donors and supporters of our party came up to us saying that while they continued to support our party, they felt they needed to vote for the NDP in this byelection so that the government and our agreement with them can continue."

Ney received less than eight per cent of the vote and finished more than 40 points back of the winner, Sheila Malcolmson of the NDP.

The results of Wednesday's byelection maintained the status quo in the B.C. legislature, with the opposition Liberals holding 42 seats, just shy of the 44 held jointly by the NDP and the Green Party.

In 2017, the Green party agreed to support the NDP after the provincial election, allowing the New Democrats to form a minority government.

Malcolmson, a former federal NDP MP, will replace Leonard Krog, the five-term NDP member of the legislature who resigned his seat last year after being elected mayor of Nanaimo. (CBC)

Green soul-searching

The Green Party acknowledges it must establish itself as a viable alternative to the Liberals and New Democrats.

University of British Columbia political science professor Gerald Baier says that will be a tough message to deliver because the party formed an alliance with the NDP.

"The Greens have to ask themselves the question — have they made themselves a little less relevant by being part of this NDP government?" Baier said.

"When the people of Nanaimo had their chance to vote, they were either voting for the Liberals or for the NDP to stay in government."

Green Party director of communications Stefan Jonsson says the Greens have a lot of work to do before the next election.

"As the byelection in Nanaimo illustrated, a two-way race in a first-past-the-post system doesn't leave much room for a third party," Jonsson said.

"If we are incrementally better than one of the other parties, voters are likely to think, 'I can vote for the party that might have a better chance of getting elected and still get most of what I want, even if my first preference is the Greens.'"

Andrew Wilkinson greets B.C. Liberal party delegates at a convention in Vancouver on Nov. 3, 2018 where he delivered a keynote speech. (B.C. Liberal Party)

Liberal next steps

The leader of the B.C. Liberals doesn't know how long it will be before British Columbians go to the polls again, but when that day comes, Andrew Wilkinson says his party will look much different.

Three senior Liberal MLAs have told Wilkinson they won't seek re-election and he's looking for young, energetic candidates to replace them.

"Every party needs renewal," Wilkinson said. 

"Every party needs new blood, fresh faces, new ideas and that's what we're doing."

Liberal candidate Tony Harris, 35, lost the Nanaimo byelection but Wilkinson liked the youthful energy he brought to the campaign.

Baier says the Liberals could use a bit of a makeover.

"If they are going to renew, now is the time," he said.

"They have a new leader now and they have a few older names that might not be hanging around because they have some baggage."

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