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Rob Shaw: A star Green Party candidate is parachuted into a riding that can't be won

Health Minister Adrian Dix has won the riding five times now, each election by a larger margin
Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi, deputy leader of the B.C. Green Party, is taking on Health Minister Adrian Dix next election in a riding Dix has won five times.

The B.C. Green Party has spent months building up the profile of its star deputy leader, retired pediatric heart surgeon Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi. He’s taken a prominent role in party affairs, and become the face of the Green effort to expand its voter reach beyond environmental issues into the areas of health and wellness.

So it was odd Thursday to watch the Greens essentially concede he doesn’t have the faintest hope of winning in next year’s provincial election.

Instead of running Dr. Gandhi in a riding where he might actually be competitive, the Greens announced he would be their candidate in the longtime NDP stronghold of Health Minister Adrian Dix in Vancouver-Kingsway (to be renamed Vancouver-Renfrew next year).

Dix has won this riding five times, each election becoming more popular. He secured almost 68 per cent of the vote in 2020. Dr. Gandhi will be lucky if he finishes a distant second. More likely, it will be a far-flung third.

“The decision to run here is not about a single individual, but it is about an opportunity and almost obligation given my background to respectfully challenge and debate what I and the B.C. Greens feel has been a horrendously mismanaged provincial health care system, replete with poor decisions, a system desperate for and begging for change,” said Dr. Gandhi.

“The people of British Columbia deserve that conversation.”

But why not run the deputy leader of the party in a more winnable riding, so that he might actually have a chance to become an elected politician and drive change as an MLA in Victoria?

Dr. Gandhi scoffed at the suggestion.

“This isn't about political calculus,” he said.

“It’s about a way to effect change, and Vancouver-Renfrew epitomizes this city, epitomizes his province. I’m the son of immigrants, this riding is made up of two-third non-caucasian individuals. Many immigrants live here. As I’ve said, I’ve operated on many families who call this place home.”

There are several other Greater Vancouver ridings with high immigrant and non-Caucasian populations, some with better odds than Vancouver-Renfrew.

There are also stronger ridings for the B.C. Greens in general, such as West Vancouver-Sea to Sky, where Dr. Gandhi actually lives. Green candidate Jeremy Valeriote came within 60 votes of defeating incumbent Jordan Sturdy there in 2020. He could have challenged Valeriote for the nomination.

Even if that riding was off the table, why go up against Dix directly when there must have been a more “strategically beneficial” riding available to actually try and win, Vancouver Sun reporter Katie DeRosa asked Dr. Gandhi at the press conference.

“This isn't about power or a political calculation,” Dr. Gandhi said dismissively, as if the very act of considering how to win a seat in the legislature was a distasteful proposition.

“It's about doing what needs to be done to get the job done to get it done right and to make life better.”

A great deal of time was wasted at the press conference listening to Dr. Gandhi dance around what was obvious to everyone: He chose to run against Adrian Dix as part of a longstanding grudge against both Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, both of whom Dr. Gandhi has repeatedly said should be fired for their mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic and the larger healthcare system.

Eventually, he got around to saying it.

“By running against the minister of health, I’m hoping to put a provincial spotlight on a thoughtful discussion,” he said. “A respectful discussion of where healthcare needs to go in British Columbia.”

Or, put more bluntly a few minutes later, “Our intention is to finish the job that Adrian Dix couldn’t even start.”

Or, put even more bluntly by federal Green party leader Elizabeth May, who was on hand and stepped in to interject on Dr. Gandhi’s behalf: “The voters of Vancouver-Renfrew get to decide who they want representing them in Victoria — if they’re happy with the quality of our health care across British Columbia they can re-elect the current MLA because he’s the architect of the disaster that faces British Columbia right now.”

So, in summary, the perplexing decision to wage a hopeless electoral campaign against Dix was “not about a single individual,” except that it was, and it “isn’t about political calculus,” except that it is.

It’s clear Dr. Gandhi’s political ambitions only extend as far as a single topic, and a single opponent. He doesn’t even care if he wins, only that he exacts as much damage as possible to Dix on his way out of the political arena.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 15 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio. [email protected]