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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Shea Long roosts in the Shoot Out in the Telkwa Range. (SnoRiders, Houston/Shea Long photo)
Telkwa Range snowmobiling permit lottery opens

Application period is Oct. 20 to Nov. 20 for snowmobiliers and skiers to gain access to Starr Basin

The Dupras family has been regulars at the Babine River and have seen plentiful grizzlies over the years. (Jay Dupras photo/Lakes District News)
A family’s close encounter with a grizzly on Babine River bridge

Photo-enthusiasts let the bear access the bridge for photos putting others at risk

Nathan Cullen, right, looks on as Wet’suwet’en hereditary leader Chief Woos, also known as Frank Alec, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relation, Carolyn Bennett and B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser address the media in Smithers, B.C., Sunday, March 1, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
10 Gitxsan hereditary chiefs call for BC NDP to remove Cullen as Stikine candidate

Ten Gitxsan hereditary chiefs have called for the firing of NDP candidate… Continue reading

FILE - Nathan Cullen speaks to media in Smithers, B.C., Friday, February 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, Cullen apologize for Stikine candidate’s comments about Haida candidate

Nathan Cullen had made insensitive comments about Roy Jones Jr. Cheexial

Joe Bramsleven and partner Tammy Wilson (centre) await election results with campaign manager Scott Groves, right, and his wife Lori Ann Groves at Boston Pizza Oct. 15. (Deb Meissner photo)
Atrill defeats Bramsleven for mayor in landslide

Mika Meyer replaces Atrill as the sixth councillor

Actor Ryan Reynolds surprised a Shuswap family with a special birthday message to their son who was worried he’d be alone on his 9th birthday on Nov. 24. (Tiffanie Trudell/Facebook)
Ryan Reynolds text almost gives away Shuswap boy’s birthday surprise

Deadpool actor helps remind eight-year-old Canoe resident he’s not alone

Vancouver police reactivated the search for Jordan Naterer Thursday Oct. 22. Photo courtesy of VPD.
Mom of missing Manning Park hiker believes her son is waiting to come home

‘He’s going to come out of a helicopter and say ‘what took you so long?”

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Environment Minister George Heyman, Premier John Horgan and Energy Minister Michelle Mungall announce that B.C. Hydro is proceeding with construction of the Site C dam, Dec. 11, 2017. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
Site C actions, costs won’t be known until after B.C. election, Horgan says

Peace River diverted for construction of reinforced dam base

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

One of the squirrels who ended up having their tails amputated after getting them stuck together with tree sap. (Facebook/Wild ARC)
Squirrels recovering from tail amputation after sap situation near Victoria

BC SPCA Wild ARC says squirrels will be released back into wild, fifth sibling was euthanized

More and more electric cars are on the road, but one Chevy Bolt owner was shocked to see how much his BC Hydro bill skyrocketed once he started charging the vehicle. (Black Press file photo)
Lower Mainland man sees significant spike in BC Hydro bill after buying electrical vehicle

An increase should be expected, but Brian Chwiendacz experienced a 200-plus per cent hike

Most Read