DUNCAN, B.C. â€” It's a warm spring night and Green party Leader Andrew Weaver is standing in the middle of a paved road on a Vancouver Island First Nation talking about vote splitting in British Columbia's election.
Traffic has stopped and the more than 50 people gathered around Weaver want to know the value of a Green vote when the Liberals and New Democrats dominate the province's politics.
Weaver holds the only Green seat in B.C.'s legislature, but he said the party is poised for more by offering voters policies and programs that include free daycare for working parents with children under three and increased education spending.
Weaver, hands in his pockets and oblivious to the line-up of vehicles forming along the road, attempted to debunk the vote-splitting concerns. He said the Greens will take votes from the Liberals and New Democrats in what he's convinced will be a breakthrough election for his upstart party.
"The argument about the vote split is a form of voter suppression," said Weaver, a scientist who has taught at the University of Victoria. "It's actually a very clever tactic, because what it does is rile up the (party) base and it turns off everybody else. But if people vote for what they want, we know we can win."
Weaver said the Greens' refusal to accept political donations from corporations and unions appeals to voters who hear the NDP and Liberals "argue over who is the least bought off."
The Greens received eight per cent of the popular vote in the 2013 election and one seat, but Weaver is forecasting gains on Vancouver Island and possibly the Kootenays, areas of strong NDP support.
"There's a buzz," he said. "People are excited about having something to vote for."
Weaver, 55, is an internationally recognized climate scientist who was part of a team that shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.
He entered politics almost reluctantly, often telling how he was persuaded to run for office at the fourth time of asking by a former party leader.
His victory in the Victoria-area riding of Oak Bay-Gordon Head in 2013 was a surprise to him. But in the legislature he became a prolific writer of private member's bills that have sometimes attracted Premier Christy Clark's support, including a proposal to ban mandatory high heels for restaurant servers
On Wednesday about 500 people filled the Cowichan Tribes' longhouse, a dirt-floor, wood-beam building, to hear Weaver and prominent environmentalist David Suzuki.
"It was a very powerful event," said Weaver. "You walk into a spiritual place and you feel the energy there."
Homemade baked goods, fresh vegetables and fruit were served. People cheered First Nations dancers and drummers who welcomed the visitors. For some, it was the first time they had been invited into a longhouse.
"I was moved," said Kathleen Currie, wiping away tears. "I thought it was amazing. To be included in the First Nations, to be in the longhouse, to know I can make a difference. There's such a sense of support."
Suzuki, who has endorsed the Greens, said holding a political gathering in the longhouse was an important step towards reconciliation.
Canada's indigenous people have a long track record of living sustainably, he said.
"But in this 150th birthday (of Canada) we better face the reality the people whose planet we inhabit and exploit are the poorest among us," he said. "Something does not compute."
Weaver said people want a vision.
"I think they are responding," he said.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press