"The NDP are portraying themselves as sugar-coated candy, but I'm finding that below the surface there's some real ugliness." — Green Party candidate Andrew Weaver in the Vancouver Sun
Welcome to B.C. politics, Mr. Weaver.
Who is Andrew Weaver? According to Wikipedia, he has been named a Guggenheim Fellow, a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a member of the Order of British Columbia and one of the top 20 scientists in Canada under the age of 40. Weaver was also a lead author in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the group that, with Al Gore, won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
The climate science superstar and former advisor to the B.C. government is a dream candidate for the Greens, who have yet to elect a provincial MLA. What Weaver lacks though is experience in the rough and tumble world of politics. It is an arena where people will misrepresent your words and attack your character. And now they have a new tool to do it with — Twitter.
On the evening of Dec. 12, Weaver became "sick and tired" enough of the "underhanded political gamesmanship" happening to him on Twitter to launch his own nuclear strike.
Coaxed by CBC legislative reporter Stephen Smart, Weaver identified an "NDP insider" named Michael Byers as the person who came forward months ago to discourage him from running as a Green Party candidate in the Victoria riding of Oak Bay-Gordon Head. To dissuade someone to not run for office with an offer of a high-paying position like deputy minister was a serious charge by Weaver, with possible legal implications for Byers if in fact it was an offer from the B.C. NDP.
So why did Weaver push the red button? Looking over his Twitter timeline it appears he was baited by NDPer David Schreck. Here's the tweet that provoked Weaver:
If I understand Weaver's claims correctly, he says he was tipped off beforehand that the B.C. NDP had sought to publicly challenge his record on a number of issues. Nothing strange in that of course. In the case of the Twitter thread, Schreck begins by accusing Weaver of supporting nuclear power, something that the Green candidate flatly denies. Then notice the arrival of Michael Eso in the conversation:
Eso's Twitter profile describes him as Victoria Labour Council President and researcher with the BCGEU — not much need to explain the NDP links there. Eso turns up the rhetoric by also suggesting the Green candidate opposed sewage treatment, a well-known sacred cow in the capital city.
Weaver stated on the Bill Good Show the following morning that he was aware that the NDP were going to start challenging his credibility, and that it began to unfold "like clockwork" on Twitter. Looking at Wednesday's thread where several people pile on Weaver, you might conclude that his intelligence from NDP headquarters was sound.
But was it "ugly" politics or, as Weaver stated on the Bill Good Show, more NDP "murkiness"? To their credit, several media set out to answer that question.
CBC TV News Vancouver ran Weaver's claims as the top story on their Wednesday late-night broadcast. Cassidy Olivier of The Province, Mike Hager of the Vancouver Sun, and Shane Woodford of CKNW each produced detailed reports that zeroed in on the veracity of Weaver's claims.
According to The Province:
"Weaver said it was his firm understanding that Byers was calling on behalf of the B.C. NDP. He said Byers told him he had the ear of party leader Adrian Dix and even suggested that a deputy minister position might be made available to him in an NDP government. "This is when he dangled the idea and said, 'You know, what about deputy minister of the environment? It was not Michael Byers going rogue. My reading of the conversation, was that he was acting as a bridge."
One of the puzzling dimensions to this story is how dismissive some other media were of Weaver's claims. Late Wednesday evening, high-profile, Global TV legislative reporter Keith Baldrey tweeted:
While it is good to know that a reporter can get Adrian Dix on the phone at 11 p.m., what is one to make of Baldrey's "I think we're all being played by the Greens" statement? To me, the due diligence on this story would not end after a denial by the leader of the Opposition, something a veteran like Baldrey understands.
If there is nothing to the story then perhaps Global's reporter should have let his colleagues discover that on their own.
Throughout 2012, B.C.'s political punditocracy repeated ad nauseam that partisan politics was dead. Supposedly by shedding his former skin as a political viper, Dix now sets the tone for a new civility in British Columbia's political discourse. By exposing some of the so-called "underhanded" activity surrounding his Green party candidacy, you might assume that Weaver was the first test of this new politics. But the pundits were unimpressed.
The Vancouver Sun's Craig McInnes said Weaver "showed a remarkably thin skin in his reaction to the Twitter exchanges" and that it possibly unmasked him as "a candidate who can't stand the heat of provincial party politics and who, despite his distinguished career as an academic and climate crusader, doesn't have the right stuff to operate effectively as a member of the legislature."
Green Party candidate Andrew Weaver claims the NDP's Michael Byers tried to get him to quit. (Green Party of B.C.)
The Globe and Mail's Gary Mason echoed McInnes, saying Weaver is "going to need to grow a much thicker skin than the one he owns now."
Being the centre of a political firestorm would overwhelm any political neophyte, including Weaver. The next morning on CKNW, he wavered when asked about Byers' offer despite his repeated assurances just hours earlier. In a follow-up segment, NDP MLA John Horgan further dragged the Green candidates's reputation through the mud by accusing him of "garbled incoherence" and attention-seeking. Those swift kicks to the torso should keep Weaver quiet right through Election Day.
If B.C. politics has really changed as some suggest, then Weaver should have been hailed for his integrity. Instead, he was shrugged off as a newbie.
So what are we looking for from the women and men we elect to public office in B.C.? Is it the kind of credentials we need to face the great economic, environmental and social challenges of the 21st century, or is it merely a thick skin?
I won't sugar-coat it for you, folks. You better bring your battle armour if you run for public office.
Follow Mike Klassen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MikeKlassen