VANCOUVER - The B.C. Green Party hopes it may be able to ride the wave of anti-oil tanker sentiment, opposition to oil pipelines and climate change concerns all the way to an electoral breakthrough next month.
Party leader Jane Sterk said the Greens will have candidates on the ballot in about 70 of the 85 ridings but they believe they have a real possibility of wins in four or five, and that's where they plan to concentrate their relatively meagre resources in the coming weeks.
"A lot of people have grown up and come to accept the Green party as one of the choices they have," Sterk said.
But the Greens remain a fringe party, said Jason Morris, a professor of political science at the University of Northern B.C.
It will be a challenge for any minor party to break through the province's two-party system, Morris said, and Green parties in general have struggled to be seen as more than a single-issue entity.
"When we come to elections in British Columbia, historically it's been about the economy, it's been about health care or education or past scandals. The environment hasn't rated as that issue that's motivated someone to vote," he said.
About a dozen environmental groups have banded together in a group called Organizing for Change, which aims to keep the environment on the agenda.
Stephanie Goodwin, of Greenpeace, said climate change is now having an impact on the province. At the same time, there are an unprecedented number of proposed projects that could have long-lasting effects, such as oil pipelines and oil and gas expansion.
"I think it puts climate on the agenda," she said.
The Greens have never come close to an electoral win provincially, but they are buoyed by Elizabeth May's federal victory in 2011, which made her the first Green politician ever elected in Canada.
And the federal party came close to an NDP upset in a byelection last November in Victoria, with 13,389 votes to the 14,507 votes that won the riding for the NDP.
Provincially, they have been a factor.
In the last election in 2009, Liberal cabinet minister Ida Chong eked out a tight victory in Oak Bay-Gordon Head with 11,877 votes, compared to 11,316 for her NDP rival. The Green party candidate drew 2,330 votes.
And in Saanich North and the Islands, Liberal Murray Coell won with 13,136 votes, compared to 12,878 for the NDP candidate and 3,223 for the Green.
Sterk said she approached Adrian Dix after he was chosen to lead the B.C. New Democrats about a deal that would eliminate the possibility of vote-splitting. He was not interested.
Now, Sterk said she believes voters want to cast a Green ballot or no ballot at all. So, while the party won't have candidates in all 85 ridings, she said they will have a healthy slate.
"The other parties use vote-splitting as a way to suggest to the voting population that there are only two choices," she said. "It's a kind of voter suppression tactic, a fear-based tactic, and I don't think it will work."
Their main efforts, however, will be concentrated on five ridings where they believe they have a chance: Victoria-Beacon Hill, Esquimalt-Royal Roads, West Vancouver-Sea to Sky, Oak Bay-Gordon Head and Saanich North-Islands.
Sterk herself will take on former NDP leader Carole James in Victoria-Beacon Hill, a riding James won with ease in 2009, racking up 13,400 votes to 6,375 for the Liberal candidate and 4,106 for the previous Green candidate.
The party's star candidate — arguably their only high-profile candidate — is University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver, who is running in Chong's riding of Oak Bay-Gordon Head.
Weaver, a member of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore, believes the Greens will elect at least two MLAs, if not more.
"The two parties running on Vancouver Island are the NDP and the Greens," Weaver said. "The Liberals are not a factor."
Weaver said B.C. does not have a healthy democracy with a two-party system that results in a majority party "dictatorship" in the legislature.
"I'd like to see a couple of Conservatives get elected. I'd like to see some Liberals get elected. I'd like to see some Greens get elected and some NDP, so we have a diversity of voices which forces us to work together and come up with the best policy for British Columbia," he said.
The party's best-ever showing in B.C. was in 2001, when voters routed the ruling NDP and gave the Greens 12 per cent of the popular vote. But while the New Democrats were reduced to just two seats, the Greens failed to gain a foothold in the legislature.
In 2005, the party's share of the popular vote dropped back down to nine per cent. In 2009, it was just over eight per cent.
The party has released a 41-page policy platform that reflects the impossibility of their forming government.
It espouses green-collar jobs while reducing government dependence on oil and gas revenues, lowering taxes on individuals but increasing the carbon tax.
A Green government, it said, would halt the Site C hydroelectric project and introduce a moratorium on new gas exploration and drilling, while returning to balanced budgets.
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