The melody of the Beatles song “All You Need Is Love” fills the BC legislature as the audience rises, faces turned to the entryway where a jubilant NDP caucus walks in to loud applause. It’s a lovely tribute to the late Jack Layton and his last words, “Love is better than anger.” But love was certainly not all these folks needed to get them into government.
It was a long, strange election, full of scandal and hard work followed by weeks of nail biting stress and confusion to sort out a minority government. For environmental advocates, there are some important lessons to be learned from the campaign trail, and some exciting times ahead.
The first lesson is that every vote matters. I can remember my parents telling me this the first time they took me with them when they voted, but it really hit home watching the results in May 2017. At one point, the difference between another majority BC Liberal government or the possibility of a Green/NDP government was a nine-vote difference in the riding of Comox-Courtney!
After the absentee ballots were counted, the riding went to the NDP by 189 votes. The election was the closest in BC history, with 43 seats going to the BC Liberals, 41 seats to the NDP, and three seats to the Greens. Ultimately, the NDP and Greens forged a governing agreement and the Lieutenant Governor gave NDP leader John Horgan an opportunity to form a government.
Even though the Harper era crackdown on charitable organizations was over, some environmental organizations still stood on the sidelines. But many did not. In the months prior to the election, Leadnow.ca, Stand.Earth, Dogwood Initiative, Sierra Club BC, and others worked to build their supporter lists so they could call or door knock these people to encourage them to vote.
Getting out the vote, as long as you are not endorsing a candidate or party, is a charitable activity and can have a real impact on close elections like this where there are clear differences on issues like climate policy, the Kinder Morgan pipeline, Site C, trophy hunting, species protection and First Nation rights.
Importantly, we saw a shift in narrative from environmental groups in framing their issues around affordability and trust to resonate better with voters. An example is opposing the Site C dam because it would lead to higher hydro bills.
We also saw a shift in tactics, with groups using Facebook ads and digital strategies rather than relying entirely on fickle media outlets to grant coverage. Increasingly, Canadians get their news from social media, and they are more likely to trust a story shared by their friends than anything else.
In the end, all these efforts payed off with more diversity, more women, more Indigenous leaders, and more environmentally conscious people being elected to the BC legislature than ever before. The Green Party surprised many by landing three seats and holding the balance of power. This bodes well for BC, for the climate, the protection of our lakes and rivers, endangered species and the resolution of controversial issues such as Petronas LNG, Kinder Morgan and Site C.
Finally, it also bodes well for changing elections themselves. The NDP/Green agreement calls for both kicking “Big Money” out of BC politics and a referendum on electoral reform. This will reduce the stranglehold of big resource companies on BC politics, while opening the door to the seat count in the legislature better reflecting the will of BC voters.
Hard work in elections pays off. The next few years in BC promise to be some of the most interesting yet.
Tzeporah Berman has been designing and running environmental campaigns in Canada and beyond for over 20 years.
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