The LB Podcast Blog
There's a new game in town, and they call themselves the BC Eco-Socialists. Borne out of years of frustration with the lack of radical action on social justice and climate issues by more established parties in the BC NDP and BC Greens, long time party activists like Geoff Berner and Stuart Parker, along with several other dedicated volunteers and advocates, got together back in the fall of 2019 and decided that enough was enough.
So what precipitated this decision, and what does it mean for BC politics as a whole? To answer those questions, we have to go back in time to the 1990s, and some critical decisions made by several BC governments that did not sit well with party faithful. For the sake of brevity and the interviews I was able to obtain ahead of Episode 1, we'll focus on Geoff Berner and Stuart Parker's journeys to the BC Eco-Socialists.
A Green House Divided
Back in 1988, a plucky young socialist named Stuart Parker was heading up the BC Young Greens in Vancouver. Still a teenager, he led a campaign against McDonald's and their foam packaging that was loaded with CFCs. McDonald's Canada later committed to removing CFCs from all of their packaging in 1990. A few years later, he became the youngest party leader ever at just 21 years old. Over the next 9 years, under Stuart's leadership, the BC Green party increased their vote share from 1% to just over 11%. Although they didn't win a seat in the legislature, they were becoming more of a political force within various social movements.
However, as in many facets of life, the good times didn't last forever. Following a bitter leadership review in 2000, Stuart was ousted as Green Party leader in a 114-86 vote that saw the election of Adrianne Carr as the new leader, along with the co-founder of the Wilderness Committee and Adrianne's spouse, Paul George. Now in political exile, Stuart and his supporters soon found a home with the BC NDP. They subsequently discovered what it was like to be part of a broader political family, and one that was in government, no less. Unfortunately, as was the case in the BC Green party, the good times quickly ran out.
Throughout the late 1990s, Stuart was a part of a number of different initiatives, including when he co-founded the BC Electoral Change Coalition in 1997. Leading up to two separate referendums on electoral reform, he served on the board of Fair Voting BC and on the board of Fair Vote Canada, as well as a spokesperson for the "YES" campaigns in both 2005 and 2009. But it was his time with the NDP that proved to be the most tumultuous, and exposed some of the deeper divisions within the ranks of the party faithful and the party brass.
After running as an Ontario NDP candidate in 2009, Stuart sought to run federally for the NDP in the 2011 campaign. However, he received a phone call from the party in March of 2010 informing him that he had been barred from running as a candidate, in that election or any other ever again. What was his crime? Apparently, along with a few other objectionable Facebook posts, Stuart had "exhorted New Democrats to keep supporting our most viable candidate for the Toronto mayor’s chair in the wake of a sex scandal".
Former NDP president Adam Giambrone was mired in a sex scandal in which he confessed to having sex with a staffer in his office, among other things. However, Stuart's Facebook post wasn't focused on that as much as what he viewed as NDP members' hypocrisy for jumping ship for that reason instead of some of their more egregious misdeeds. In particular, he lamented that "our party has denied welfare to refugees and inter-provincial migrants, broken strikes, shot at Indians, invoked the Notwithstanding Clause, supported NAFTA and otherwise sold out social democracy in Canada. But of all the things to quit the team over”. That was enough to seal Stuart's fate for good.
A Political Re-Awakening
After a number of years of supporting the BC NDP behind the scenes, including the 2017 general election where he worked on Garry Begg's campaign to defeat Peter Fassbender and help the BC NDP form a working government with the BC Greens, Stuart resigned the party in March of 2018. In a letter he sent to the party and posted on his personal blog, he excoriated the BC NDP for a number of reasons, most notably for its decision to give out $6 billion dollars in tax incentives to the LNG industry.
Less than 2 months later, Stuart teamed up with Dean McGee and several other activists to create Proudly Surrey, a civic left-wing slate that was to offer an alternative to Doug McCallum and the Safe Surrey Coalition. A few months later, Pauline Greaves, a former director of the UBC Women’s Centre, executive director of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre and policy director of the Elizabeth Fry Society, joined their slate as the mayoral candidate. Although Proudly Surrey didn't elect any candidates to city council (Greaves finished 4th), it didn't deter Stuart from continuing to speak out against the "know-nothing populism" of Surrey's elected officials.
Last year, Stuart moved to Prince George and subsequently started a morning talk show on CFIS-FM called "After Nine" where he discusses local and provincial politics. Meanwhile, he was also working behind the scenes to put together like-minded activists who were disaffected with more establishment political parties to launch a new party: The BC Eco-Socialists. While he was not able to attend the party launch, he sits on the Board of Directors and continues to organize for the party. For more on Stuart Parker, you can check him out on his blog or on his think tank, the Los Altos Institute.
The Socialist Songwriter
Never one to mince words, Geoff Berner is a firebrand, through and through. Whether it's through his lyrics or through his political speeches and activism, Geoff does not shy away from controversy and is very opinionated. He also knows how to stir things up. In 2001, while an unregistered member with the Rhinoceros party,he famously quipped that if he were elected that investors in Vancouver would get "cocaine and whores", which garnered a lot of media attention.
His musical styling, referred to as "klezmer-punk", is a mixture of traditional Jewish folk music and punk rock. He has played concerts all over the world, and just returned from a tour through Austria and Germany. Geoff's latest album, "Grand Hotel Cosmpolis", was released in Europe two months ago and features "Zog Nit Keyn Mol", a song which retains its power to inspire bravery and defiance in the face of the growing threat of fascism in Europe and North America, according to his website. He even released a video tribute to former Vancouver Canucks enforcer Gino Odjick, a sort of 'role model' for fighting back against the odds:
From Poetry To Politics
Along with being an accomplished songwriter, Geoff is also no stranger to politics. He's been a friend of Stuart Parker's for decades, running for the BC Greens several times while Stuart was leader, and as mentioned before also ran for the Rhinoceros Party, albeit as a joke. So it should come as little surprise that Geoff and Stuart should team up years later to create their own political pet project, in response to the dire crisis that we now find ourselves in globally. While he hasn't officially taken on the mantle of party leader, he spoke very passionately at the BC Eco-Socialist launch back in October:
After watching the party's launch video, it was clear to me that Geoff and Stuart are not alone in their passion and anger. The party already has a number of supporters, in Vancouver and indeed across British Columbia. They have an active social media presence, and a platform that is very aggressive and unapologetic. But as is the case in politics elsewhere in the world, socialism hasn't traditionally done very well in British Columbia or in Canada at large, and even the more established Green Party and NDP federally have rarely garnered more than 15% of the vote.
However, this doesn't mean necessarily that the BC Eco-Socialist Party won't do well in BC. In fact, as we speak, the BC government is betraying a lot of the voters' trust with respect to environmental policy, as well as Indigenous rights. The recent aggression by the RCMP against the Wet'suwet'en people in the interior is fodder for parties like the BC Eco-Socialists. They have wasted no time in capitalizing on the perceived arrogance from both the RCMP and the Premier in dealing with the current situation:
The BC Eco-Socialists are not likely to form a government in British Columbia, but they can certainly wield some influence, and breathe some air into a socialist movement that has been stalled by bureaucracy, capitalism, and lack of political will. Voters who have been frustrated with the BC NDP and BC Greens may find themselves a home with this upstart party. Who knows, they might even elect an MLA or two in the coming years. But one thing, at least for now, is certain: More people WILL be talking about the BC Eco-Socialists from here on out.
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