West Vancouver-Sea to Sky riding Green Party Deb Rousseau

Woodfibre LNG and climate helped lead to a surge in Green support in this B.C. riding

West Vancouver-Sea to Sky includes Whistler’s famous ski slopes, threatened old-growth forests and an inlet still recovering from a history of industrial pollution

Editor’s note Nov. 17: Following a judicial recount, on Nov. 17 the BC Liberal incumbent was found to have won the West Vancouver-Sea to Sky riding by just 60 votes. Although the B.C. Green party candidate was declared the winner on election night, with a 604-vote lead, mail-in ballots tipped the scales. Upon final count, the BC Liberals took 37.54 per cent of the vote, while the Greens took 37.30 per cent.

On the night of the B.C. election, Jeremy Valeriote, the Green Party candidate in West Vancouver-Sea to Sky, was watching the results in the living room of the Whistler home he shared with his wife Ginny and their twin six-year old girls. 

They were joined by Ginny’s parents and Valeriote’s sister and brother-in-law, who were keen to pop the cork on a bottle of champagne to celebrate a hard-fought campaign, no matter the outcome. “Let’s wait until 10,” Valeriote convinced them. 

As the clock neared 10, the networks flashed up a checkmark beside Valeriote’s name and the room erupted in noisy celebration. For the first time, the sizable riding — which includes Howe Sound communities, Whistler and Pemberton — had gone Green. 

“It was a tremendous feeling,” Valeriote tells The Narwhal. “I was still kind of in a state of shock. There was a lot of cheering … It was quite festive. I was in a little bit of disbelief, and also aware that the results were not final.”

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Valeriote, a geo-environmental engineer who is about to complete a master’s degree in leadership at Royal Roads University, won’t know for certain until Nov. 6 if he’ll be taking a seat in the B.C. legislature alongside BC Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau and Green MLA Adam Olsen. 

He’s 604 votes ahead of Liberal incumbent Jordan Sturdy, with an unknown number of mail-in ballots — about 7,700 were requested — yet to be tallied. 

Until the final count arrives, Valeriote plans to spend time with his family (he’s the primary caregiver for twins Nina and Rose), sleep (he finally managed eight hours of shut-eye for the first time in a month), unpack (the family moved house two days after the election) and consider that he might soon be a MLA.

I’m having initial conversations about what it will look like if I become MLA elect and just getting prepared, but certainly not acting as though the results are final,” said Valeriote, who was a municipal councillor in Gibsons for four years before moving to Whistler two years ago for his wife’s career. 

Jeremy Valeriote Green Party

Jeremy Valeriote with his wife, Ginny, and twin daughters, Nina and Rose. Photo: Jeremy Valeriote

Woodfibre LNG opposition a factor in election

The riding of West Vancouver-Sea to Sky has seen various boundary and name changes over the past 50 years, but it’s always been held by the BC Liberals or the now defunct Social Credit party. 

So why did the Greens have a breakout election, snagging what will likely be their first seat outside Vancouver Island, even though the odds were stacked against them with a snap election called one year before the fixed election date, only days after Furstenau was elected party leader?  

Valeriote credits his tentative victory to rising concerns about intertwined environmental issues, including opposition to the planned Woodfibre LNG project owned by Indonesian billionaire Sukanto Tanoto. 

The Woodfibre liquefied natural gas export facility would see LNG offloaded from floating storage tanks near Squamish to carriers an average length of three football fields that would traverse the island-studded waterways of Howe Sound. 

Howe Sound

The mouth of Howe Sound viewed from West Vancouver. Photo: Aditya Chinchure

Woodfibre LNG map

The location of the Woodfibre LNG project in Howe Sound. Map: Carol Linnitt / The Narwhal

According to the Pembina Institute, carbon emissions from the Woodfibre LNG project would add the equivalent of 170,000 new cars to B.C. roads each year, while the project would use the same amount of freshwater annually as 5,500 households.

The Greens are the only elected party opposed to LNG projects, which will significantly increase carbon emissions at a time when the world faces a climate emergency. 

“The overall consciousness around the climate crisis, and the action we urgently need to take on it, was probably at the forefront of most people’s minds,” Valeriote says.

“It shows up in Woodfibre LNG and discomfort with government subsidies [for LNG and other fossil fuels] and the alternative things we could do with that public money. It shows up in the climate emissions aspect of Woodfibre LNG.”

“And Howe Sound is really the marine jewel of the southern B.C. coast. It’s close to Vancouver, and people get to experience it. It was over industrialized for a time and it’s slowly recovering but it still has critical species and critical habitats.”

A related issue for voters, Valeriote says, is how climate change will affect the region’s robust winter tourism industry. 

“That’s a key one for Whistler and the whole corridor, the future of our winters,” he says. 

“The overall picture is a very strong consciousness that our impact on the environment needs to change, and I think that’s expressed in all these different issues.” 

Green vote steadily increased with each election

Tracey Saxby, executive director of the Howe Sound group My Sea to Sky, believes local opposition to the Woodfibre LNG project and deepening concerns about climate change made Valeriote the only choice for many voters. 

The Green vote in the riding has increased steadily, Saxby notes. It rose from 11 per cent in 2013 to 29 per cent in 2017 to 40 per cent in the Oct. 24 election.

“If this project goes ahead, it’s going to create more than double the emissions of the entire community of Squamish — and that’s just the locally produced greenhouse gas emissions,” Saxby, a marine scientist, says in an interview. 

“That doesn’t even account for upstream emissions from fracking or the downstream emissions from shipping and regasification and when the product is finally used by the end user.”

In May, the district of Squamish said it would only support an extension of B.C.’s environmental certificate for Woodfibre LNG, which was due to expire on Oct. 26, if the project’s operation within the district of Squamish met emissions targets set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

That would compel Woodfibre LNG to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 45 per cent by 2030 and be at net zero by 2050. 

LNG Carrier Tanker

The Woodfibre LNG project would see 70 to 100 LNG carriers travel through Howe Sound each year. Photo: Shutterstock

Similar resolutions were passed by the district of West Vancouver, the town of Gibsons and the Squamish Lillooet regional district, while the municipality of Bowen Island went a step further, expressing its continuing opposition to the project.

But on Oct. 25 — the day after the election — the B.C. environmental assessment office granted Woodfibre LNG a 5-year extension on its environmental assessment certificate, with no conditions. Reasons for the decision are expected to be released during the first week of November, according to an email from the B.C. environment ministry. 

Saxby calls the decision “irresponsible and reckless.”

“LNG is not clean or green; it’s been green-washed,” she says. “The science is very clear that we cannot develop new fossil fuel infrastructure in a climate emergency that will lock in emissions for another forty years.”

Granting the certificate extension with no conditions is just one example of how the B.C government has “dismissed and ignored local governments and the public time and time again, and continue to rubber stamp this project,” Saxby says, noting more than 20,000 people around Howe Sound have signed a declaration in opposition to Woodfibre LNG. 

“We have made Woodfibre LNG an election issue since 2014, and we’ve seen the shift happen,” Saxby says. “The BC Greens are the only party that is opposed to LNG and that recognizes the impacts of LNG.”

Local issues like Woodfibre LNG can ‘tip the balance’

UBC professor Kai Chan says it’s one thing for people to think about climate change in the abstract and quite another when they face a climate change issue in their own community.  

“Risk perception for sure is felt most keenly close to home,” says Chan, who teaches in the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability. “Those kinds of local issues are motivating in a way that can tip the balance, whereas global concerns sometimes don’t.”

The BC Greens came second in 14 ridings in the Oct. 24 provincial election, compared to four ridings in the 2017 election, Chan points out. 

And that’s despite the snap election, which Chan says was “super tough” for the Greens’ small party and likely why their share of the popular vote dipped slightly, from almost 17 per cent in 2017 to just over 15 per cent.

Kai Chan headshot UBC

Kai Chan, professor in the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia, said local issues can tip the balance when it comes to votes. Photo: UBC

“They didn’t have candidates lined up in most of the ridings until the election was called. That kind of scrambling is a huge challenge. If you’ve never heard of the candidate before the last few weeks, the chances of lots of people voting for that person are pretty slim, whereas last time around there was much more time to organize.” 

SFU political science professor Cara Camcastle has been studying the Green Party for years and is the author of a forthcoming book about the Greens.

She says the Green breakthrough in West Vancouver-Sea to Sky is not a surprise given that the party’s share of the popular vote in the riding has jumped with each election.

The BC Liberals garnered 36 per cent of the popular vote on Oct. 24, compared with the Green’s 40 per cent and 24 per cent for the NDP.

Camcastle points to the NDP and Liberal’s “lack of responsiveness” to key issues for voters in the riding, including Woodfibre LNG, as a significant factor in the Green’s healthy showing. 

There’s a strong correlation between B.C. voters who do not want LNG projects and people who vote Green, says Camcastle, who studies party ideologies and policies, including those related to the environment.

“The opposition to the buying of the [Trans Mountain] pipeline [by the federal government] is another issue. The same people who oppose these projects — also the Site C dam — want to see the government doing more to incentivize greener projects.”  

The NDP were also criticized during the election campaign for not doing enough to support small businesses in the tourism sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, Camcastle points out. 

“There are many B&Bs and other small businesses that depend on a pristine environment in Howe Sound and which are affected by COVID and are having difficulties, and who want the government to move quickly to assist them.”

Then there’s what Camcastle calls “the strength of the Green environmental consciousness in the riding.”

“Jeremy Valeriote indicated he is deeply concerned about the environment and he has young children, so he’s thinking about the long-term.”

Strategic voting has tended to work against the Greens for many years, Camcastle says. 

“This time it looks like finally something happened. People might have wanted to vote Green before and held back because they think the Greens don’t stand a chance of winning in their riding. But things are changing and that’s good for the Greens. It could be because they started to win seats.” 

Valeriote said other issues of concern to West Vancouver-Sea to Sky voters also come with a climate change lens, including highway congestion, a lack of mass transit options and old-growth logging. 

The Greens said they would immediately move to fully implement the recommendations of the old-growth strategic review panel, which called for a paradigm shift in the way B.C. manages old-growth forests. 

The party also said it would immediately end logging of old-growth forests in high risk ecosystems across the province and enact legislation to conserve ecosystem health and biodiversity as an overarching priority. 

“The general opinion I heard is that we should protect what little remaining old-growth we have, for the most part,” Valeriote says. “There’s lots of people that care deeply about preserving the forests we still have.” 

Assuming he becomes the MLA-elect, Valeriote says a priority, in addition to representing his constituents, will be working with his Green colleagues to make sure initiatives started under the CleanBC plan continue and pushing for an end to fossil fuel subsidies

“I’m just looking forward to being involved in public service again and working for the public good.”

Update October 29, 2020 at 12:19 p.m. PST: This article was updated to remove reference to the Sunshine Coast, which is not a part of the West Vancouver-Sea to Sky riding as previously stated. The Sunshine Coast is a part of the federal, but not provincial, Sea to Sky riding. Updated November 12, 2020 at 10:08 a.m. PST: This article was updated to correct a reference to the length of LNG carriers. They are an average of three American football fields in length and not six as previously reported. This piece was also updated to note the riding has not been won by the B.C. Greens and will undergo a recount. 

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