A UBC professor who was slated to run as a star Liberal
candidate in the Sea to Sky corridor has jumped ship to run for the NDP in
Michael Byers, an oft-quoted expert on Arctic sovereignty and
international law, was initially courted by the federal Liberals to run in the
riding of West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, which includes
Whistler and Squamish, but has fallen out with the party over its environmental
policies. He is now seeking the NDP nomination in Vancouver Centre.
“Mr. Dion’s climate change plan is not the right plan for this
point in time,” Byers said. “In fact it’s very much the wrong time, and then so
I’ve chosen to put my career with a party that actually has got a strong
climate change plan.”
Since deciding to run for the NDP, Byers has become the target
of attacks by Bruce Young, the Liberals’ B.C. campaign co-chair, who said the
academic wanted the riding handed to him “on a silver platter” without any
competition. However Byers tells it differently.
interview that the Liberals had been courting him as early as February, when he
hosted a conference in Ottawa on the Northwest Passage. Richard Maksymetz, a
Liberal organizer who deals with the Prairies and the Northern Territories,
approached him at the conference and raised the issue of the riding.
Blair Wilson, the riding’s MP who was elected as a Liberal but
now sits as an independent, was the focus of controversy after a story in the
newspaper reported a mountain of allegations against
him, among them undeclared campaign expenses and debts to in-laws.
Byers said he later had a meeting with Young and Mark Marissen,
the national campaign co-chair for the Liberals in the next election. Byers
said there was a “great deal of enthusiasm” about the prospect of him being a
The way Young tells it, Byers was persistent in expressing his
interest to run with the Liberals.
“The Liberal Party is a coalition of economically prudent,
socially progressive folk, that go through a pretty wide spectrum,” he said.
“Mr. Byers fell within that broad range and was indicating an interest in being
a Liberal candidate aggressively.”
Byers met with Stéphane Dion in Ottawa on May 14. There, he
said, the two spoke about a prospective candidacy in West Vancouver-Sunshine
Coast-Sea to Sky Country.
“He made his pitch again, and was very enthusiastic about the
prospect of me,” Byers said. “I heard him out, I thought very carefully about
the suggestion, we spoke specifically about climate change, an issue on which
he and I agree in terms of the seriousness of the issue.”
This, however, came before Dion’s announcement of the “Green
Shift,” a multi-fold plan that includes a federal tax on fossil fuels such as
coal and natural gas. The Green Shift handbook says the tax will start at $10
per tonne of carbon dioxide and peak at $40 per tonne in four years.
Since the plan’s announcement, Byers decided that the NDP’s
“cap and trade” policy is a more effective way to combat greenhouse gases.
A cap and trade policy involves placing limits on major
emitters, which account for 50 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions,
according to the NDP. Those emitters would then have to buy so-called “carbon
credits” that would be set at approximately $35 a tonne, credits that could be
put towards green technologies and other initiatives.
Byers feels that policy is more effective than Dion’s, which he
said is “dangerous to our economy.”
“I think that there are other policies, most notably cap and
trade, which is Jack Layton’s policy,” he said. “It also happens to be Barack
Obama’s policy and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s policy.”
Young has now gone on the offensive against Byers, claiming he
was reluctant to go through a nomination process in the riding.
“He told me, point blank, that he didn’t believe that he could
mount a successful nomination and that he wanted all the opponents removed from
the process,” he said. “He wanted us to work it and organize it so he would run
unopposed, and we weren’t prepared to do that.”
Byers, however, said he received indications from the Liberal
Party that he could run for the candidacy unopposed.
“It was not explicitly put on the table,” he said. “But there
were very strong indications that that was what Mr. Dion wanted to do.”
He said that, shortly after meeting with Dion, the Liberal
leader wanted to announce his candidacy at a policy convention the following
“I take it as a pretty clear indication that they were
considering that option,” he said. “I didn’t jump at that suggestion, but
(Dion) phoned me sometime later and said that he would fly to Vancouver to
announce my candidacy.”
Sarah Bain, a spokeswoman for Dion’s office, said in a written
statement that no indication was ever given to Byers that he could bypass the
nomination process in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, but she
did not deny that there were indications he could run for the nomination unopposed.
Kenneth Halliday, president of the Liberal riding association
in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, said that two prospective
candidates have filled out papers for the nomination process, and two more are
considering doing so.
To date, outgoing Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland is the only person to confirm that the party has approached him to be a candidate.