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Greens, Furstenau adapting after wild year

Maclean Kay
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BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau on the sad irony of calling an election to put politics behind us, dodging her predecessor’s shadow, and getting back to “backseats and warm cheese.”

If 2020 was the longest year ever, it might have been even longer for still-new BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau.

Not just because of a whirlwind of events, winning her party’s leadership campaign and immediately being thrust into a surprise election. But also because it started a week early.

“It was the last week in December [2019] when I had my first meeting with my future campaign team about the leadership race. We launched the campaign at the end of January,” Furstenau told The Orca in our year-end interview.

Asked if the sudden snap election feels any different a few months later, Furstenau is succinct: No.

Soon thereafter, COVID-19 forced the Greens’ leadership contest into stasis, like most best-laid plans for the year.

As the province grappled with the pandemic, the Greens sometimes had trouble attracting attention to their race. Partly because it was virtual, partly because it was polite and didn’t generate fireworks, but also because it was, as Furstenau gently termed it, “somewhat overshadowed by the former leader, and the choices he made over the course of the year.”

When it was safe enough to resume, Furstenau emerged as the winner, but didn’t exactly get a honeymoon. Instead, literally hours later, she was thrust into a surprise election by her erstwhile CASA partners.

During the campaign, Furstenau outperformed many initial expectations, particularly when challenging Horgan on the NDP’s wobbly (and changing) justifications for calling it. Asked if the sudden snap election feels any different a few months later, Furstenau is succinct:

“No.”

After I laugh, she expands:

“It’s really disappointing. I guess it’s even more, seeing what we’ve lost in the province.”

“We lost a level of cooperation and collaboration across three parties that was really unprecedented in B.C.’s history. We lost the momentum of bringing forward concrete solutions as part of COVID recovery and the debate of the solutions that we had in the summer.”

Green leader Sonia Furstenau (Courtesy BC Green Caucus)

Months later, Furstenau says that lost momentum still hasn’t been regained.

“So we didn’t have a fall, legislative session. We’ve come back and we’re debating exactly one bill, and the bill has nothing to do with people and the challenges that they’re facing and the urgent needs of small businesses and tourism operators and teachers and families coping with mental health issues.

“No, this bill has nothing to do with any of those things. It’s a bill to extend the deadline for when the government needs to bring in their budget next year. We had an election for that?”

As Furstenau puts it, the greatest and saddest irony of all this, was Horgan doing it in the name of “putting politics behind us.”

“We had put politics behind us in the spring and the summer, and then politics got put very front and center, obviously, in an election campaign.”

“It’s a bill to extend the deadline for when the government needs to bring in their budget next year. We had an election for that?”

For now, Furstenau and the Greens have (probably) four years to adjust to a new role, and ensure they’re ready for the next election.

“There’s so much to do, but I think number one is maintain the relationships we built in this election. I’m pleased to say that the party is already doing good work on that front,” says Furstenau.

That will get easier – and more fun – when travel is once again safe.

“I’ve spent… four summers traveling all over BC. One of my favorite moments last year was when my son had to do a social studies assignment. He had to put 75 or 78 towns in B.C on a map. He had been to all but two of them.”

“He thinks his memoirs will be called Backseats and Warm Cheese.”

Finally, I asked Furstenau a holiday question – the same as interim BC Liberal leader Shirley Bond, and Premier John Horgan: is there anyone in the other two parties you’d single out for doing a good job, or have a surprisingly good relationship with, and would not put coal in their stocking?

“Oh, there are so many! I would turn that question around – there are very few I would even consider putting coal in their stockings; the vast majority deserve respect and admiration for the work they do.” Furstenau did mention former BC Liberal MLA Mary Polak as someone she had gotten to know well, and will miss.

In the meantime, Furstenau speaks for many, shaking her head and saying 2020 is “definitely a year I will never forget.”

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca

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