Gordon Head is the greenest neighbourhood in the country.
Not only is the region represented federally by the first-ever Green MP Elizabeth May, this week Saanich and Oak Bay residents made history yet again, giving the B.C. Green party its first seat in any provincial legislature in Canada.
Andrew Weaver, a University of Victoria climate scientist, defeated longtime Liberal MLA Ida Chong and NDP candidate Jessica Van der Veen in a riding touted as being the Greens’ best shot at winning a seat.
Weaver held the lead from the outset, as votes came in Tuesday night. By the time the final votes had been tallied, three hours after polls closed, Weaver received 40 per cent of the popular vote in Oak Bay-Gordon Head, more than 10 per cent (or 2,500 votes) ahead of the incumbent Chong, who finished second.
“If you had asked me 10 years ago if this would happen I’d say you were absolutely crazy,” Weaver said Tuesday night during his victory party at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel. “I’m not going to come in off the bat making strong statements and policy. I’ve got to learn what the position is from the inside out, build strength in my voice getting a background of what’s there.”
Weaver said he’ll spend the next few weeks understanding the legislative process, arranging staff and opening his constituency office.
Dennis Pilon, associate professor of political science at York University and a specialist in B.C. politics, says despite the historical vote, Weaver likely won’t be able to accomplish much in the B.C. legislature.
“He could make the most of this or it could be a real disaster,” Pilon said. “Being a lone member of a party in the legislature can be very lonely. You don’t have a lot of power. It’ll depend on what kind of player he turns out to be. Is he the ego-driven Andrew first? Or is he really on side with this Green party ‘I’m representing a movement of people’ thing? Time will tell.
“His victory is an important psychological victory for the Green Party of Canada. The fact they’ve elected another (politician) is crucial,” he added. “They don’t want (Elizabeth) May to appear to be a one-off fluke, so I think this is very important for them.”
Ida Chong ousted after 17 years
Residents in Oak Bay-Gordon Head will go from having a cabinet minister to being represented by a one-member party in the legislature.
Chong, who spent the past 20 years in politics – three as a Saanich councillor and 17 as an MLA, spent Tuesday night in a state of optimistic disbelief. The former accountant repeatedly told supporters, “It’s still early. It’s not over till the end.”
Despite trailing both Weaver and Van der Veen much of the night, it took another 20 minutes after Weaver’s televised victory speech before Chong conceded defeat.
“Congratulations to Andrew Weaver for achieving the history he wanted to achieve,” she said.
“Of course there’s a bit of sadness that I’m not able to continue to represent this riding. There’s some projects I’d still love to continue on with and can only hope that the new MLA will do that.”
Over her long tenure as a MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, Chong has held numerous cabinet positions, including the high-profile position as Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.
“It’s bittersweet,” she said of the majority Liberal government. “Whenever you’re running you want to win your seat to add to the majority of the party, and the majority of government. I certainly would’ve wanted to be there.”
South Island constituencies produced strong showings for the Green party.
Leader Jane Sterk (Victoria-Beacon Hill) and Saanich North and the Islands candidate Adam Olsen each received nearly one-third of the votes in their respective ridings.
Olsen, Gary Holman (NDP) and Stephen Roberts (Liberal) jockeyed for positions all night, with Holman ultimately being declared the victor, but only by 52 votes over Roberts.
“We have to see what happens when the (absentee) votes come in,” Pilon said. “That could convert to somebody else.”
Voter turnout in Oak Bay-Gordon Head was 64 per cent, down from 66.9 per cent in 2009.
–with reporting from Laura Lavin
Silver lining for former cabinet minister
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says Ida Chong’s defeat comes with a silver lining in the form of severance and a million-dollar pension.
Jordan Bateman says Chong is in line to receive some $1.55-million in pension if she lives to 80 years old. Her year one pension is $89,405.
For every dollar a retiring or defeated MLA contributes to their pension, they receive $4 from taxpayers.
“The one caveat in this is a period between 1996 and 2007. MLAs had to make a proactive choice to buy back that missing time under a richer (RRSP) system,” Bateman said. “(Chong) being an accountant, she should know the value of buying those back.”
She also has the potential to receive $101,859 in severance over the next 15 months, and up to $9,000 as a training allowance if she needs to update her education if she chooses to go back to work.