Dr Andrew Weaver has been the MLA for Oak Bay and Gordon Head since 2013, and was re-elected in 2017. Dr Weaver was born in Victoria, BC and grew up on the island, graduating from Oak Bay High School. He has since gone on to teach at the University of Victoria, and raised a family in the area. He joined us for a conversation about his life and career, and the potential that he sees in the community, and in the Cascadia region as a whole.
Having been so embedded in life on the island, Dr Weaver has embraced the opportunity to get into politics and give something back to the community. He speaks passionately about protecting the environment, the people of the area, and his drive to serve them.
"This is my community. I grew up in this community. I went to school in this community. My parents lived in this community. To be able to serve and help the constituents, it's been the single most rewarding thing more than you could possibly know. You could actually, you could make a difference. Of course there's the broader provincial policy narrative. But from the constituent perspective, it's about assisting in the constituency."
Prior to his election as MLA for Oak Bay and Gordon Head, Dr Weaver was a lead author on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose responsibility was to analyse and provide climate change data to the world. It may not seem like a natural transition, we asked Dr Weaver how he was able to apply his impressive background in climate science to politics.
"Science by its very nature is one where you ask questions to find problems and seek solutions. So my approach to politics has always been solutions oriented. As a director, I supervised numerous grad students over the years and I always would say to them, criticism is simple, but unless you provide the constructive approach, it's not very helpful. I approach politics the same way, if I don't like something, sure I'll say I don't like it. But it's insufficient to say that. I would offer what I would do instead and let them have the debate accordingly."
This approach has allowed Dr Weaver to remain bipartisan in climate science debates, and focus on the facts of the debate where opinions are concerned. One particular hot topic in Canada in recent years has been the balance of the environmental impacts of the oil and gas industries in the nation weighed against the benefits to the economy. In British Columbia there are a number of strategic advantages available which the province can use to its advantage.
"My focus in government since the day I got there was trying to position British Columbia to take advantage of its three strategic opportunities that no one else can match. Number one is it’s the most beautiful place in the world, which means we can attract and retain the best and brightest. And that's important, particularly with highly mobile sectors, like the tech sector. We also have abundant, boundless, renewable wood, energy, and water. These are strategic resources. If there's anywhere in the world that could move to clean energy ubiquitous, and actually think of energy as an export commodity, it would be us. We have wind, we have water, we have solar, we got it all. And one thing we have is one of the best education systems in the world from early childhood through to graduate school."
The University of British Columbia was recognised in the World University rankings, 2020, as the 2nd best university in Canada, and 34th in the world. Dr Weaver points out that having institutions like this in the region helps to attract talent and sends a message to the business community that the area can provide the talent that they need. Beyond the burgeoning tech industry in BC, Dr Weaver sees a lot more untapped potential.
"We can provide an opportunity for industry that wants to position themselves as clean going forward. It would be a no brainer for us to build a manufacturing center because we can ensure that that manufacturing is done efficiently with clean energy. We have a skilled workforce, and we have the labor. That’s been my push rather than just the oil and gas sector, because it's helpful unless you provide an alternative."
From his time at school, Dr Weaver has been involved with science. A big part of his role as MLA is to engage with the community and lead initiatives, engaging people in issues and leading the discussion. One of his passion projects has been the Vancouver Island School weather station project, which he started in response to seeing school budgets being cut with a desire to get kids involved with climate science at an early age.
"It was about giving back, being rewarded by seeing the smiles on kids' faces when they talked about the climate and weather, it's massive. The goal is to provide curriculum resources and exponential learning opportunities at no cost to the schools where there's a willingness to do it. It's about helping teachers deliver the curriculum modules that we wanted to and we follow that up with in class demonstrations. It was bottom up. The comments came back from the schools, we responded to teacher requests and we have 150 schools signed up now."
The response has been heartening for Dr Weaver, and he is keen to point out how the scientific community has changed in the last 20 years, and how important it is to engage the next generation in climate change.
"Weather and climate are the most beautiful example of physics in action. And you can use data from weather to look at graphing and mathematics. If we provide these opportunities, perhaps we might see some results. It was about giving opportunities to show the relevance of math and physics. I worked with teachers to develop the curriculum that we made available and so forth. So it was about giving back. We all experience weather every day. And that means we're experiencing physics and math every day."
In his book "Generation Us: The Challenge of Global Warming” he asks young people to get out and vote on the issues of climate change. We asked Dr Weaver what elected representatives can do to engage young people with political issues, and how they can better represent them. He sees his position as an educator as well as a politician as a pathway for enabling the next generation to have their voices heard, and is quick to point to the likes of Greta Thunberg, who are leading the way.
"It was one of the main reasons why I decided I'm not running again. And also I stepped down as leader when my job was done. I got into politics in BC because I saw British Columbia moving from a leader under Gordon Campbell in terms of recognizing opportunities that every environmental challenge was emphasized. So every challenge is nothing more than an opportunity for innovation and creativity. Climate change is no different than anything else. I saw Gordon Campbell recognize this with Mark Brown and his Chief of Staff, a very generous environment minister, and they put in place measures to capitalize on this opportunity."
Beyond speaking out on the public stage, Dr Weaver urges young people to take action in their own lives with things they can control. The first being one that applies to all of us - your spending power. To spend money with businesses that are committed to climate change action, and to ‘send a signal’ to elected officials that they care about the decarbonization of the energy system. But most importantly, one issue he has been particularly vocal about is young people using their vote.
"I would ask my class about voting. Maybe 50% of the people in the class had voted. And then I would ask why not? They would say that it's not relevant. Politicians don't care about us, they're all there for themselves, all they want to do is get elected, or it's not relevant to me. And I would ask them: do you want change? Climate change is an issue that is really irrelevant to my generation. No matter what policy measures you put in place right now, I will not see the fruits of those policy decisions because the carbon emissions policy decisions we make today take years to actually implement an effective climate system. So ultimately global warming is an issue of kids’ generational equity. If the younger generations are not voting, they've only got themselves to blame because as people get older and they're starting to vote for things that are more relevant to them."
"We know that 70% to 80% of seniors vote. If you're campaigning on reducing hip and knee replacement lineups, you can do that and four years later and say, look what I did. You know, you should vote me back in and you get reelected. Well, you know, if generational equity questions it, not so much. So I say if you don't like who's running, run yourself and I, at some point I felt a bit of a hypocrite."
Dr Weaver is eager to point out that when he chose to run for office with the BC Green Party he did not expect to become elected. At the time the Greens did not have a single seat in the country on a provincial level. Winning the election was a surprise, and he says that campaigning on points of principles which have largely been achieved have left him feeling like his job is done, and that it is time to pass on the baton. He has a few words of advice for his successors.
"There is global awareness. I use awareness of this issue. We got clean, BC developed a new policy on the environment. It's time for others to step up. One of the things I hope people will do as we move forward is recognize that politics in my view should not be a career path, it should be a sense of civic duty. You get in with your bag of tools, you throw your shoes on the table, everyone else does, you build what you want to build collectively. The whole is much greater than the sum of the parts."
Vancouver Island is uniquely placed in the strategic advantages it has regarding the environment and with its close ties to the economies along the entire Pacific west coast. Utilising not only natural resources but the wealth of talent in the Cascadia Corridor as a whole presents enormous opportunities for businesses in the region. Dr Weaver believes that this situation is still ripe to be explored further and for the area to make a global impact.
"It's a frontier. We know more about the moon than we do about some of our oceans. And it's something that I think we, we don't actually know what advantages we have until we explore those advantages. It's an incredible opportunity, particularly for Vancouver Island, because we are an Island surrounded by ocean. It makes a lot of sense for Victoria, for example, to build on what's been done at the University of Victoria, Pacific Biological Station and the Nanaimo Institute Ocean Sciences up in Sydney. We've got a lot of research facilities here. We've got Ocean Networks Canada based here, so it is a strategic advantage for this region."
Closer to home, Dr Weaver has started work on the post-pandemic economic recovery. Gathering local leaders for a townhall meeting to discuss the strengths of the region, and discussing local issues such as securing funding for vital infrastructure projects. He is a big supporter of the South Island Prosperity project, and is keen to see the next generation of public servants continue this work.
As an advocate of young people taking over the reigns in politics and climate science, we asked Dr Weaver what advice he has for young people that want to pursue a career in public service.
“I believe that politics is enriched if you get experience and expertise in something first and then go into politics. I don't think it's healthy for political discourse for people to graduate from high school, go into university, go into politics and then stay in politics. My advice is to become an expert in something. And then if at that point you want to give back to the community, then consider politics. I would recommend you get your experience by listening and talking to see if you liked that engagement. You need to develop your toolkit with tools in my view, before you actually go into politics.’
We asked Dr Weaver if he could go back in time, what would he tell himself at 21 years-old. The answer was not straightforward, but it was honest and heartfelt.
"That's really hard for me to say.. I don't know how to answer that because I've always looked forward. I always look at what has happened and how we move forward. I mean, the past is the data on which you build the evidence to suggest how you move forward."
I had no intentions of going into politics. I got into physics and maths, because that was my love. So I would say that to everyone else, do what you love.’
You can find out more about Dr Andrew Weaver MLA here: http://www.andrewweavermla.ca/