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Fringe parties battle political exclusion

The Liberals want to “Keep BC Strong” and the NDP want voters to “Take Back Your BC.”

But if neither of those campaign messages appeal to you, perhaps you can rally around the Sex Party’s “Hot sex will cool the planet” or BC Reform’s “We heart CO2.”

Those are just two slogans from the 11 fringe parties battling for your vote this election.

British Columbians discontent with the main parties can stay home on Election Day or spoil their ballots, but a notable percentage will support a fringe party. In 2005 that was the strategy of over 2.5 per cent of voters.

Most of these parties exist for the same reason many people vote for them – their founders were unhappy with the status quo, said UBC political sociologist Chris MacKenzie.

“Minor parties start up because of a sense of discontent and that discontent comes from political exclusion,” he said.

For many fringe parties this continues to be the main reason for running candidates in elections.

“We’re using the electoral purpose for one of its legitimate functions, which is to give voice to non- mainstream issues,” said Sex Party leader John Ince. For his party the issue is trying to create a sex-positive culture.

The B.C. Marijuana Party is another issue-based party that has made a mark on B.C.’s electoral scene.

But this election it has endorsed the Green Party of B.C. for its calls to end drug prohibition.

“The purpose of a political party is to get your idea adapted by the governing bodies or by large opposition parties,” party leader Marc Emery told The Tyee.

The Marijuana Party is only running one candidate and Emery said this election could mark the end of the party in B.C. politics.

“It’s quite possible I’ll fold the B.C. Marijuana Party and put my energy into the B.C. Greens after this election,” he said.

This decision would not be surprising, said MacKenzie, given that one of the main goals of fringe parties is to have their issues taken up by the mainstream.

When this happens, the party no longer has to put the time and financial resources into fielding candidates.

“It facilitates the ability to put their energy into a whole lot of other things,” he said, which demonstrates the connection between many fringe parties and broader social movements.

Most minor parties acknowledge their dismal prospects of electing candidates but their tactics could change if voters choose to adopt a new electoral system in the referendum on Election Day.

BC-STV could allow fringe parties to raise their profile and improve their possibility of electing a candidate, MacKenzie said. “Overall it should help them.”

The new electoral map with only 20 ridings means it would not be as difficult to run a full electoral slate. “Now they can look legitimate -- they can say we have a candidate in every riding.” MacKenzie said.

Another big difference under STV is that constituents would have the opportunity to vote for multiple candidates.

Under the current system most people vote for the party they feel can best provide for their economic needs, MacKenzie said, but this could change if STV’s preferential ballot is adopted.

“Under the STV system it opens up the possibility that I can vote for an issue and I can vote for my economic stability.”

This could increase both the popular vote and party profile while raising the possibility of electing a candidate, MacKenzie said.

It’s not uncommon for parties to move in and out of the fringe as the electability of issues changes.

The Green Party of B.C., formerly a minor party, now runs candidates in every riding, polls around 10 per cent of the vote and is included in the leaders’ debate. The B.C. Conservatives are now fourth in candidate-count and could cause an upset by taking a seat this election.

And the B.C. Social Credit Party, still a registered party, formed government for 36 years in the second half of the 20th century but now isn't even running a single candidate.

The 11 fringe parties vying for your vote with their number of candidates are:

BC Libertarian Party (6)

BC Marijuana Party (1)

BC Refederation Party (22)

Communist Party of BC (3)

National Alliance Party (2)

People’s Front (4)

Reform Party of BC (4)

The Sex Party (3)

Western Canada Concept Party of BC (1)

Work Less Party of BC (2)

Your Political Party of BC (2)

A complete list of candidates in all 85 ridings is available here.

Garrett Zehr reports for The Tyee.

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