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

Workers from the Quesnel Child and Youth Support Society prepare Christmas hampers in 2019. The society was one of seven recipients of funding in the first round of the Emergency Community Support Fund. The Quesnel Community Foundation is now accepting donations for the second round of funding and is urging local groups to apply before Oct. 30. (Facebook)
Quesnel Community Foundation urges area groups to apply for COVID-19 relief funding

The deadline to apply for Round 2 of the Emergency Community Support Fund is Oct. 30

The best photo of the Fraser River Walking Bridge taken on Oct. 23 or 24 will be rewarded with a donation to the Polio Plus Fund on behalf of the Rotary Club of Quesnel. (File Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Quesnel’s footbridge set for scarlet spotlight

The Fraser River Footbridge will be bathed in red light to mark World Polio Day Oct. 23 and 24

A police officer speaks to a driver during last year’s Shift Into Winter event in Quesnel. The annual road check reminds drivers to slow down and be safe during winter. (Karen Powell Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
It’s time to Shift into Winter

The annual campaign offers winter driving tips

Jeff Malin nears the finish line Sunday, Oct. 11 in downtown Quesnel. (Lindsay Chung Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
No travel, no problem: Jeff Malin completes ninth marathon in Quesnel

The Quesnel firefighter has been running marathons since 2012

The owners of Motherlode Wash on Juniper Road in South Quesnel are hoping to construct a new wash building that would accommodate larger vehicles like RVs and semi-trucks. The new building would be two storeys and would match the existing buildings on the property. (Lindsay Chung Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
South Quesnel’s Motherlode Wash applies to add wash building for large vehicles

The new building will include three large-vehicle wash bays and one touchless wash tunnel

Conservative member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on October 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Liberals say Tory effort to set up COVID-19 committee will be a confidence matter

The Tories were originally proposing an ‘anticorruption’ committee

A injection kit is seen inside the newly opened Fraser Health supervised consumption site is pictured in Surrey, B.C., Tuesday, June 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. records 127 fatal overdoses in September, roughly 4 each day

Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria continued to see the highest numbers of overdoses

Investigators work at the Sagmoen farm in Silver Creek. - Image credit: Observer file photo.
Sex workers allegedly called to farm of Okanagan man convicted of assault, RCMP investigating

Curtis Sagmoen, convicted in relation to assault of sex trade workers, is prohibited from soliciting escorts

(Black Press Media files)
Early voters more likely to favour NDP, but overall B.C. election is tightening: poll

According to Elections BC, 383,477 people cast a ballot during advanced voting days

(Pixabay)
Wave of racist emails ‘unleashed’ on B.C. researchers investigating racism in health care

The team has received close to 600 calls and emails since the investigation started in July

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

Most Read