VANCOUVER - The British Columbia Green party made a historic breakthrough in the provincial election this week, powered on what appeared to be opposition to oil pipelines and concerns about global warming.
Andrew Weaver, a University of Victoria professor and climate change expert, defeated four-term Liberal cabinet minister Ida Chong in the Vancouver Island riding of Oak Bay-Gordon Head on southern Vancouver Island.
"It is very, very exciting," a tired, but elated Weaver said Wednesday.
But the reaction among environmental groups to the Green victory was tempered by the surprising loss of the B.C. New Democrats and their no-to-pipelines platform.
"Looking at the Liberal platform, and forming the next government, (there is) disappointment that there weren't more steps forward on climate change in that platform," said Matt Horne, director of energy solutions for the Pembina Institute and a spokesman for Organizing for Change, a coalition of environmental groups that advocates for environmental policy in B.C.
"There's definitely some disappointment from an environment perspective."
The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and expansion of Kinder Morgan's existing Trans Mountain pipeline played a daily role in the campaign, but Horne said it's unclear how much of an issue it was in the ballot box.
But Weaver and the Greens ran on a strong environmental platform, he said.
"It grew as an issue. I don't think that's going to subside post-election," Horne said. "If you look at pipelines, there's certainly lots of opposition to the proposals out there that's not going to disappear because the Liberals won."
Although they ran candidates in 61 of 85 ridings, the Greens poured their resources into a handful of districts where they believed they had a chance.
The New Democrat stronghold of Vancouver Island, where the party held 10 of 14 seats, became a battleground as Weaver and B.C. Green Leader Jane Sterk made the election a three-way race.
Sterk challenged former New Democrat leader Carole James in Victoria-Beacon Hill, and lost.
Aiming to split the small-g green vote and make their own Island breakthrough, the B.C. Liberal party bought a full-page newspaper ad in the Island's largest daily newspaper comparing the environmental policies of Sterk, Dix and Liberal Leader Christy Clark. The ad promoted Sterk and Clark's visions as clear, as opposed to Dix's stance on issues such as liquefied natural gas, oil pipelines and tankers.
There were a dozen ridings where the combined Green and New Democrat votes were greater than the total Liberal votes.
That included Fraser-Nicola, where longtime New Democrat MLA Harry Lali was defeated by Liberal Jackie Tegart by 754 votes. The Green candidate garnered 1,174 and the B.C. Conservative 832.
It also includes Surrey-Fleetwood, where New Democrat incumbent Jagrup Brar was defeated by Liberal Peter Fassbender 8,201 votes to 7,936. The Green candidate won 1,032 and the Conservative 748.
Kathryn Harrison, a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia, said the combined NDP and Green vote in most of those ridings did not total more than the combined Liberal and Conservative vote, which arguably was also split.
"Lots of those people don't like the NDP and don't want to vote for them. There are others who we might consider deep Greens for whom the NDP wasn't Green enough and wasn't likely to be Green enough," Harrison said.
Elizabeth May, the federal Green party leader and the sole Green MP in Parliament, said Weaver's win was the "silver lining" in the election.
"I think Andrew Weaver's win will be seen like that, the one bright spot in an otherwise quite surprising and quite worrying result," May said.
The Liberal position on environmental issues is anything but clear, she said, and Clark did not declare her position on Northern Gateway or tankers, she said.
Weaver flatly rejected the suggestion vote-splitting allowed the Liberals some unlikely wins.
"We took as much support from former Liberals as we did from former NDP, and we brought in new voters, as well," said Weaver, who was a lead author of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
"We have historical lows for voter turnouts, which tells me that the NDP did not bring their vote out."