B.C. Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau speaks during a media availability following her speech at the UBCM convention at the Victoria Conference Centre in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday September 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

B.C. Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau speaks during a media availability following her speech at the UBCM convention at the Victoria Conference Centre in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday September 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

The ‘relentless underdog’: Green Leader Sonia Furstenau ready for uphill battle

Furstenau was only named the party’s leader one week before the election was called

Green Leader Sonia Furstenau was driving Monday when she turned on the radio and learned an early election would be called that day in B.C.

She felt a kind of disappointment that she says she’s felt many times in the past — one that fuels her.

“It’s the disappointment that a lot of people feel when these kinds of cynical decisions are made that put a party ahead of the people that we’re in here to serve,” she said in an interview.

COVID-19 pandemic aside, it’s not an ideal time for an election for the Greens.

Furstenau was only named the party’s leader one week before the election was called and the Greens have never had the coffers of their political opponents.

On top of that, the Greens have a lot to prove, having won a record-breaking three seats in 2017. After holding the balance of power in the NDP’s minority government, Furstenau and her team must demonstrate the party is more than an anomaly and has a sustainable role to play.

So what has prepared her for this uphill battle?

“Everything. I seem to be in a relentless underdog story.”

The mother of three children and two step-children,Furstenau, 50, said she was drawn to politics by a sincere hope in a better future.

Her first foray came in 2014, when she ran for local government as part of her fight for clean drinking water in Shawnigan Lake, north of Victoria. For years she wrote letters, attended hearings and organized rallies against a provincial permit that allowed a company to store contaminated soil in the watershed.

“I was told every step of the way this was an unwinnable fight,” said Furstenau, who relaxes by knitting dolls in the likeness of people she loves or admires.

The permit was cancelled in 2017.

She won the leadership even as former leader Andrew Weaver told the Vancouver Sun he was advising her two competitors.

“The former leader was clearly working to not have me succeed in that role and I succeeded,” she said.

Weaver told the Vancouver Sun newspaper that Furstenau didn’t think she needed advice, but if she asked he would be happy to provide it.

Furstenau also overcame obstacles early in life, she said.

She was raised by a single mother in subsidized housing in Edmonton, and benefited from an experimental early childhood education program that meant she entered Grade 1 knowing how to read and write.

In the 1990s, she became a single mother too. But she could go to the University of Victoria because a tuition freeze meant she could afford it, and there was childcare for her young son, she said.

Before entering politics, she worked as a waitress, a bookkeeper and high school teacher.

Furstenau studied history and education in university and had started a PhD in England until examining the public value of her path.

“A friend of mine asked me a question that I really wrestled with, which was how does this help the world?”

Furstenau took it seriously enough to drop out and return to teaching in B.C., where she thought she could have a more direct impact.

She ran for the Greens in 2017 because she said she couldn’t get behind NDP or Liberal policies that supported the oil and gas sectors, or didn’t do enough in other areas that are important to her, like child welfare reform.

Adam Olsen, the other member of the Green caucus, said Furstenau was not deterred when she ran for a seat in the legislature, even though her Cowichan Valley riding was widely considered an NDP stronghold.

Olsen said he believes Furstenau is comfortable in the leadership role and ready to prove any doubters wrong.

“I think, actually, she cherishes this opportunity to be in this situation to some extent because I think some people have overlooked (her). She’s had shade cast on her since the beginning of the campaign to become leader and she shone through that shade,” he said.

“I think that will shine through the next 30 days.”

If there’s one misconception that people have about her, Olsen said it’s that Furstenau is a radical activist. She is a strong organizer and advocates for her community, and Olsen said he believes the two get confused.

“She’s very very principled and has a very strong moral compass, is very ethical in her approach to governance,” Olsen said.

For her part, Furstenau doesn’t see “activist” as a dirty word.

“If it means somebody who stands up for a future that’s better, then I’m an activist,” she said.

“I think so much of the good outcomes that we have are because of people who stand up for what they believe in.”

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

BC politicsBC Votes 2020

Just Posted

Okanagan Lake (File photo)
Thompson-Okanagan ready to welcome back tourists

The Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association expects this summer to be a busy one

Aerial view of a wildfire at 16 Mile, 11 kilometres northwest of Cache Creek, that started on the afternoon of June 15. (Photo credit: BC Wildfire Service)
Wildfire at 16 Mile now being held

Wildfire started on the afternoon of June 15 at 16 Mile, east of Highway 97

The Desert Daze Music Festival is doggone good fun, as shown in this photo from the 2019 festival, and it will be back in Spences Bridge this September. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)
‘Best Little Fest in the West’ returning to Spences Bridge

Belated 10th anniversary Desert Daze festival going ahead with music, vendors, workshops, and more

Internet speed graphic, no date. Photo credit: Pixabay
Study asks for public input to show actual Internet speeds in BC communities

Federal maps showing Internet speeds might be inflated, so communities lose out on faster Internet

Fireworks are among the things now banned throughout the Kamloops Fire Centre, as the weather heats up and a dry summer looms. (Photo credit: Black Press files)
Category 2 and 3 open fires, fireworks now banned in Kamloops Fire Centre

Ban on certain types of fires and fire activities in place until Oct. 15

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

An artists conception of the new terminal building at the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport.
Air travel taking off in B.C., but lack of traffic controllers a sky-high concern

There will be demand for more air traffic controllers: Miller

Canadian Armed Forces experts are on their way to North Vancouver after a local homeowner expressed worry about a military artifact they recently purchased. (Twitter DNV Fire and Rescue)
Military called in to deal with antique ‘shell’ at North Vancouver home

‘The person somehow purchased a bombshell innocently believing it was an out-of-commission military artifact’

Phil McLachlan/(Black Press Media
Man shot at Kamloops shopping centre

The man is believed to be in stable condition

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz have set their wedding date for February, hoping that more COVID-19 restrictions will have lifted. (The Macleans)
B.C. couples ‘gambling’ on whether COVID rules will let them dance at their wedding

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz pushed back their wedding in hopes of being able to celebrate it without the constraints of COVID-19

A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., May 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Report calls for airlines to refund passengers for flights halted due to COVID-19

Conclusion: federal help should be on the condition airlines immediately refund Canadian travellers

Green party Leader Annamie Paul speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Paul has survived another day of party strife after a planned ouster shifted course, leaving her with a tenuous grip on power ahead of a likely federal election this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul blasts ‘racist,’ ‘sexist’ party execs who sought ouster

Fallout has continued, with two of the federal council’s members resigning

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says re-opening B.C.’s border to the U.S. ‘is not in our best interest’ right now. (B.C. Government photo)
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry (B.C. Government photo)
B.C. records 113 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 4 deaths

Vaccination of young people rising quickly, near 75 per cent

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and U.S President Joe Biden shake hands during their meeting at the ‘Villa la Grange’ in Geneva, Switzerland in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)
Biden says meeting with Putin not a ‘kumbaya moment’

But U.S. president asserted Russian leader is interested in improved relations, averting a Cold War

Most Read