After years of challenging Claremont secondary students to think of how they could change the system, Mark Neufeld is taking the challenge himself.
The veteran teacher is the Green Party’s Saanich South candidate for the upcoming 2017 provincial election.
He joins provincial party leader Andrew Weaver (Oak Bay-Gordon Head) and Adam Olsen (Saanich North and the Islands) on the local slate. The party is still deciding who will lead the Victoria-Swan Lake, Victoria-Beacon Hill and West Shore ridings.
Five years ago Neufeld restarted Claremont’s Institute for Global Studies program which takes an interdisciplinary approach between social studies and the sciences. It’s something that ran at Claremont previously. This time, it carried a greater focus on climate change.
“As a society you can see there are a lot of solutions we could be doing, when we look around, but we aren’t,” Neufeld said. “It was hard to be in front of my students and say we could be doing these things but not be doing them. Now I can be a part of doing things at a different level for myself.”
Politically, Neufeld was relatively unaffiliated with any party until recently. As a youth he was involved in student politics, and held the role of vice-president of student services at the University of Victoria. But until recently, there was a gap where he had been focused on teaching, coaching and his family. He lives with his wife, Robynne Edgar, who works in aboriginal health, and their two sons, aged 7 and 13. Neufeld has been teaching since 1992, including stints at Bayside middle school and a First Nations school in the Fraser Valley, before coming to Claremont.
For the last year and a half Neufeld has worked as a Cowichan Valley Regional District parks commissioner for Area B, which includes Shawinigan Lake.
He’s been part of a team that advises the CVRD on issues of parks and recreation including policy to support parks and ecotourism in that area.
It’s where he met Sonia Furstenau, who has publicly declared her intention to seek the Green Party nomination in Cowichan Valley.
But it was teaching in Elizabeth May’s federal riding, and Andrew Weaver’s neighbouring provincial riding, that really helped influence Neufeld’s decision.
“What brought me to the party was Weaver getting into [politics] and Liz May moving here and coming to my classroom to speak to our students,” Neufeld said.
Weaver was Neufeld’s masters supervisor, during which Neufeld developed the Institute for Global Studies. It was the result of a masters of science program that combined Earth and Ocean Sciences, which is Weaver’s department, with the Faculty of Education.
“The impetus for me is you see how remarkable young people can be and you see how many remarkable possibilities there are,” Neufeld said.
Climate change policy solutions and public education are at the forefront of Neufeld’s focus. He worked with the province on the new curriculum changes and wants to see more funding for public education.
“Public education is such a big deal and I happen to think the Ministry of Education has made bold moves recently, but absolutely funding is an issue,” he said.
Neufeld will go up against incumbent South Saanich MLA Lana Popham of the NDP, an interesting opponent as the two are acquaintances.
“She’s the first person I sat down with [since taking the nomination]. She’s a good friend and a great person, and this is nothing against her, she’s been really supportive over the years,” Neufeld said.
“The biggest thing is that we’ve been going from one party to the other, letting those parties go hard after one another while not supporting B.C. as well as we could be. It made the Green Party attractive to me as we can help influence those two parties to govern B.C. better. If we can get some more support, we can being out the best in them, and B.C. is yearning for that.”
Party bans corporate, union donations
Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green Party, announced during a speech to the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention on Wednesday that the Green Party will no longer accept donations from corporations or unions.
The party’s new political finance policy takes effect immediately.
“We need leadership that places the interests of the people of British Columbia – not organized union or corporate interests – first and foremost in decision-making,” Weaver said.
He pointed to the 2015 Mount Polley tailings pond disaster as a key example. The corporation that operates the mine is a substantial donor to the B.C. Liberals and the union representing the workers at the mine is a donor to the B.C. NDP.
“Who is there to represent the people of B.C.?” Weaver asked.