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Greater Victoria Green Party MLA Adam Olsen will not seek re-election

Olsen has represented Saanich North and the Islands since 2017
Adam Olsen is the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands. He has just announced he will not seek re-election this fall. (Black Press Media file photo)

Green Party MLA Adam Olsen announced on Tuesday (June 25) he will not seek re-election to the B.C. legislature this fall. 

Olsen, who has represented Saanich North and the Islands since 2017, made the announcement Tuesday morning in Victoria, where Party Leader Sonia Furstenau joined him. 

Olsen said he is not running again for personal reasons. "There are three deaths in the last calendar year, that each in their own way, have put me into an existential re-evaluation of what is truly important to me, who I prioritize and who I serve," he said. The most recent of these deaths left two "very young children" without a father, Olsen said. "So I began asking myself -- 'how much do my (two) children actually know me?'" 

Olsen said that moment made him consider for the first time how much elected public life was determining his mood, his availability and the actions of his family. "I became much more thoughtful about the impact that it was having on my partner Emily, our relationship and how that had changed." 

Olsen — along with Furstenau — was one of two B.C. Greens with seats in the legislature when it rose for the last time before this fall's election in the fall. Olsen said he knew by then that he would not be running again, but added that he felt no sadness at that moment.

"I felt no emptiness," he said, when describing that moment. 

Olsen, who will continue to work with the party as its campaign chair, acknowledged that there is no good time to announce that type of decision. "It's always awful," he said. "I could have made the decision earlier, I could have made it later. The timing is what it is." 

Olsen first entered public office by winning a seat on Central Saanich's municipal council 2008, a feat he repeated in 2011. Olsen then became part of the three-member-strong B.C. Green caucus elected in 2017 along with Furstenau under then-party-leader Andrew Weaver, who negotiated the confidence and supply agreement that allowed then B.C. NDP leader John Horgan to become premier, leading a minority government. 

Furstenau described Olsen as a close friend, who she says has become one of the greatest parliamentarians in B.C. during the last seven years. "His speech today is a testament to somebody who can speak from a place of integrity, a place of deep wisdom and importantly, a place of service," she said. 

The party has yet to announce a candidate who would defend Olsen's seat. This said, he pointed that no other candidates are nominated so far in the riding.  "We have got a bank account with a good amount of money in it, we have got experienced campaigners and my hope is that someone with some passion and desire and experience steps up and into that space and fills that space like I filled it and takes it forward." 

Looming behind questions about Olsen's replacement is the larger question of the B.C.'s Green Party's survival in the legislature. Furstenau is running in what many would consider a safe riding for the B.C. NDP rather than her riding of Cowichan Valley, which has undergone boundary changes. 

"For Adam and for me, the seat is not the destination," she said. "The seat is the vehicle for service and I have such love and admiration and respect for Adam, recognizing that his job is to be in service and if he can't be in that place...he will find another vehicle. I know that deeply." 

Furstenau added that her party's focus lies on getting B.C. Greens elected. 

But UBC political scientist Stewart Prest said that may get difficult with Olsen's departure. "It's another blow for the party," he said. He added that the party has been failing to gain any traction during the last four years after Horgan had ended the confidence-and-supply agreement forged in 2017 on way to winning a majority in 2020. "It (Olsen's departure) is another problem for this party and may make it that much more difficult to even maintain the presence in the legislature, let alone build on it." 

Prest added that Saanich North and the Islands remains the most likely riding to elect a B.C. Green, noting that Olsen has grown his margin of victory since winning in 2017. But it remains to be seen whether the B.C. Greens would able to maintain that share, he added. Olsen's decision not to run coupled with the fact that the B.C. NDP continues to poll well and the prospect of two right-of-centre candidates splitting the vote adds another level of unpredictability, Prest added. 

"So there are any number of dynamics working against the B.C. Greens at the moment," Prest said. "The B.C. Green Party continues to be something of an after-thought in B.C. politics, not to put too fine of a point on it," he added. 

Overall, Prest sees Olsen as one of the strongest parliamentarians of recent years, noting that Olsen has become a spokesperson on many issues when Furstenau is not available.

"He has also found ways also to be productive in the legislature as a parliamentarian, asking good and difficult questions. As much as anything, the party and indeed province will miss his voice," Prest said.  

Olsen, a member of the Tsartlip Nation, was not just strong on environmental issues, but also an effective spokesperson on Indigenous issues, Prest added.