Facing the 'wall of hate': A profile of Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver

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Facing the 'wall of hate': A profile of Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver

Facing the 'wall of hate': A profile of Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver

It's Andrew Weaver's wall of hate.

On his second-floor lab at the University of Victoria, Weaver, his staff and students have assembled the various letters and emails the Green Party leader has received over time.

When showing off the wall, Weaver points out a few lines on one of the letters that describe him as a "giddy huckster" and a "flatulent demigod."

But these insults have nothing to do with his politics. The target of the hatred is Weaver's work as a climate scientist. 

"When I started to get into the public eye as a climate scientist, you start receiving emails and hate mail," said Weaver. "One of the funny things is the scale of vitriolic diatribes that I received as a climate scientist is basically gone now as a politician."

A political scientist

Weaver is giddy when showing people around his lab. It's a physical display of his life work including books Weaver has written, academic papers and a framed certificate in his office.

That certificate is not one you will find in many politicians offices — or anyone else's office really. It's a designation for participating in the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

It's the work for which Weaver is best known. One of his challenges will be convincing the public he is more than just a professor in his "ivory tower," as he describes it.

"I am a guy who in high school you could not compartmentalize. I played on the chess team and I played on the rugby team. I would hang out with a diverse number of groups," said Weaver. "I am just a person who went into science because we need more evidence in our decision making."

Entering the 'fray'

That decision making ability is what drew Weaver to politics. He was originally recruited by federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May to run under her party's banner.

But the 56-year-old did not want a job that would require him to fly across the country to Ottawa and away from his family. What made Weaver so attractive as a political candidate to May is his ability to understand what matters to people.

"He has an ability to communicate science to non-scientists. A good scientist and good communicator combined is rare," said May. 

"What is beyond rare is a willingness to enter into the fray and deciding we need good public policy and we need people in politics who understand good public policy and he was prepared to step up and run for office.

"By background, you don't think of scientists as the first people who will do well in politics. But Andrew has a really good ear [listening] to constituents and a real pragmatic approach to reach across the aisle."

Keeping family out of politics

Weaver describes his wife and two kids as the most important thing to him. Like many British Columbians, Weaver helps take care of his wife's elderly parents. 

"While I may have reduced the amount of work I have to do at the university, I have increased the number of smoke alarms I have had to install and the fences I have had to fix with my in-laws," said Weaver." I like to be busy."

That "busyness" means the family has less time together. Weaver makes sure, though, he still finds time for his university-aged children, who he keeps out of the public eye except for an expected appearance on election night. 

"One of the things I just will not tolerate on social media is if someone brings your family in. It is just unacceptable," said Weaver. 

"I have stuck my neck out here to do what I can to get our politics back on track. It's a gong show here. But that's me. That's not my family. My family is there doing their thing."

Keeping the lab going

One of Weaver's biggest concerns when he decided to enter politics was that he would no longer be able to pay the 12 to 15 people who worked in his lab and counted on his grant money.

So, over the last four years, Weaver has maintained his work space at the University of Victoria, while his last student wraps up her work this year. 

When Weaver walks the university halls, his presence is immediate, calling to people around the corner or down the hall. One of those who has known the Green Party leader the longest at the university is Ed Wiebe, who is part of the climate modelling group lab.

"His view of trying to find a way to bring scientific viewpoints to people in a way that they may not be used to thinking about, I think his enthusiasm for science and trying to improve life for people of all walks of life would bring that to the forefront," said Wiebe.  

"Once people start to see how he works on projects, they would probably want to get involved too. He really encouraged me to want to do more public outreach."

But should people take Weaver seriously? The Green Party has only won one seat in British Columbia's history — Weaver's own seat four years ago.

Yet for someone who has spent a life dedicated to science, Weaver is still willing to go with his gut at times.

"I have spent a whole career of people saying this is the compartment you are in and you cannot do this. I would say it is a challenge," said Weaver.

"If you look at the polling, even if you don't believe in the polling and look at the same number of days out, and we are above where Rachel Notley was before winning in Alberta."

People might roll their eyes when they hear Weaver compare himself to a leader that went on to become Alberta's premier.

But for the career scientist, it's just another opportunity to exceed people's expectations.

Listen to CBC reporter Richard Zussman's interview with Green Party leader Andrew Weaver: