Local New Democratic MP Randall Garrison says he is “perplexed” that the federal Greens have targeted his riding.
“I have a strong record on the environment,” he said in an interview with the Saanich News, noting among other points he was among the first elected officials to oppose the Kinder Morgan pipeline. “I have been a life-long environmentalist. I probably have one of the greenest records in the House of Commons. So I am often a bit perplexed when Green parties are targeting the greenest people. But that is their decision.”
He made these comments after his Green opponent in the riding of Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke David Merner identified Garrison’s riding and Victoria as priority ridings for the Greens.
“We know that we can win here. We are going to pour resources into them. And actually, it is not just these two ridings,” said Merner.
Garrison said he heard the same argument in 2015, but no evidence supports it. “There is no local polling,” he said. “Every party sets its sights on what it would like to do, but I don’t think there is anything to substantiate it.”
Merner finished eight percentage points behind Garrison in second place, while running as a federal Liberal.
Merner’s comments came after Paul Manly became the second Green – after party leader and local MP Elizabeth May – to win election to the House of Commons. Manly won the byelection in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, a seat held by Garrison’s former caucus colleague, Sheila Malcolmson.
This outcome inspired claims that the byelection previewed the coming competition between federal Greens and federal New Democrats up and down Vancouver Island, including Greater Victoria, with Greens potentially winning enough seats here and elsewhere to hold the balance of power in a future minority parliament.
Garrison disagrees, noting among other points that turnout among voters was low. “It’s a supposition,” he said when asked about this predicted dynamic. “I guess I would call it a hope. Yes, last time in Victoria, when the Greens finished second, there was a competition.” Yet there is no evidence that this dynamic will play itself out, he added. “Maybe there is a big shift that has happened, but no one has evidence of this shift on the ground.”
Garrison predicts New Democrats and Conservatives will compete for Vancouver Island ridings outside of Greater Victoria, as they have always done in the past. “And we will see what it is here locally,” he said.
He also questions the larger narrative that the Greens could end up holding the balance of power. Greens, he said, tried to make the same argument the last time around. “You have to have bit more of a foothold. If they are targeting three [ridings], even if they won all three, three is not going to be enough to hold the balance of power.”
Garrison said all signs currently point towards a minority parliament with no party holding a majority of seats. “But a party with 30 or 40 or more seats is the one who is going to have the influence, not a party with a two or three seats.”
So Garrison speaks of his own party? “Well, any party,” he said. “The Liberals went from 30 to 188. They might go back to 30.”
Looking at the larger picture, the NDP performance in Nanaimo-Ladysmith intensified questions about the party’s direction under leader Jagmeet Singh, whom critics have previously accused of being too indecisive around environmental issues.
Singh, who visited New Democrats in the riding of Saanich Gulf Island over the May long weekend, has since tried to counter this impression by presenting a series of measures designed to combat climate change, while criticizing the federal Liberals for their decision to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline.
But questions remain. During a recent television interview, Singh would not answer questions about whether he supported the $40 billion liquefied natural gas project underway in northern B.C.
“I think what people are trying to do here is they are trying to get him to say he is opposed to the LNG project approved in British Columbia,” said Garrison, adding no daylight exists between his position and Singh’s. “That project is approved. It is going ahead. There is no federal role for opposing it at this point. They [the provincial government] say they are going to keep it within their greenhouse gas reduction targets. I expect them to keep that promise.”
Garrison said this tactic of pitting the provincial NDP against the federal NDP is unfair.
“I don’t do it, but it would be the same kind of argument, ‘Gee, the B.C. Greens should be condemned because they haven’t brought down the government that is doing LNG’ or their leader, Andrew Weaver, was the at the ribbon cutting for Site C.”
This absolutism is ultimately counter-productive, he added.
“Calling out people for not being perfect is not the way for us to make progress,” he said. “I wish — and I have said it publicly and I have always said it — that the B.C. government would not be doing the LNG project. I opposed Site C. But I am not a provincially elected person. You are going to have to hold those people responsible, and hold me responsible for what I have done federally.”
Within this context, he also pointed to what he called his “strong record” on defence. “The Green Party has a big challenge in this riding, since a third of the people in this riding have a direct connection to the military. If you want to have an independent foreign policy, if you want to do peace-keeping, you have to have a well-equipped, well-trained military.”