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Battleground BC

Looks Bleak for Third Parties

Don’t Expect Minor Parties to Elect an MLA

By Will McMartin, 18 Apr 2005,

Most everyone agrees that the BC Liberal party and the New Democratic Party will win legislative seats in the 2005 general election; the only question is, how many for each?

But what of the myriad minor parties offering candidates to the B.C. electorate? Do the Green party, Democratic Reform (DRBC), The Sex Party, Work Less Party, B.C.

Marijuana or any of the other ‘fringe’ parties have a hope of electing even a single MLA?

Not really, as is shown by a quick check of B.C.’s electoral history. It is rare for a political party which, in the preceding general election did not win a single seat in the Legislative Assembly, elect a MLA in the following general election. (That is, to go from ‘zero’ to ‘some’ seats, from one election to the next.)

It happened in 1903, of course, when political parties first appeared on the provincial scene in B.C. The Conservative party (22 MLAs), the Liberal party (17), the Socialist party (3) and the Labour party (1) all captured seats for the first time. Many of the MLAs elected in 1903, however, were incumbents who previously had won election to the legislature without declaring their party allegiance.

In 1912, a Socialist Democratic Party candidate won the Nanaimo City seat, but did not seek re-election.

The 1920 general election, conducted in the aftermath of the First World War, saw a plethora of upstart political parties, many of which were composed of war veterans. Just the Federated Labour Party was successful in snaring legislative seats, however, winning three: Newcastle (Sam Guthrie), Fernie (Tom Uphill) and South Vancouver (Harry Neelands).

Four years later, the three FLP MLAs sought re-election as representatives of the newly-formed Canadian Labour Party. Uphill and Neelands retained their seats, Guthrie lost his, and a CLP newcomer, Frank Browne, topped the polls in Burnaby. Uphill enjoyed a lengthy career in the legislature, usually winning re-election under the Labour banner, and Guthrie returned to win three elections with the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation.

The 1924 general election also saw the emergence of the Provincial Party, an amalgam of disgruntled Tories and the United Farmers of B.C. Three seats were won by the new party, which disappeared before the next contest, although MLA G.A. Walkem won re-election as a Conservative.

The Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) made its debut in the 1933 general election, won seven seats and formed the official opposition. Twenty-eight years later, the CCF became the New Democratic Party.

The 1933 contest also marked the disintegration of the Conservative government and party. Two former Conservatives MLAs won re-election: Rolf Bruhn under the Non Partisan Independent Group banner, and Robert Pooley with the Unionist Party of British Columbia. Bruhn was joined in the NPIG caucus by a newcomer whose legislative career lasted a single term.

The Conservative party officially re-emerged in the 1937 general election, and with eight MLAs (one more than the CCF) became the official opposition. A coalition government of Liberals and Conservatives was formed following the 1941 general election, and offered candidates under a Coalition banner in 1945 and 1949. The Coalition won both contests by huge margins, but disintegrated prior to the 1952 general election.

Social Credit (in a variety of forms) offered candidates to B.C. voters in 1937, 1945 and 1949, but was unable to win a single seat, even though the Socreds took power in Alberta in 1935. That changed in 1952, after Conservative MLAs W.A.C. Bennett and Tilly Rolston moved to the fledgling entity, when the Socreds snared enough seats to form a minority government. They were re-elected with a majority of seats in 1953 and the next five general elections.

The Liberals and Conservatives disappeared from the BC legislature in the 1970s, as B.C. politics was ‘polarized’ between Social Credit and the New Democratic Party. But the demise of the Socreds in 1991 was accompanied by the re-emergence of the Liberals, who captured 17 seats and formed the official opposition.

Three MLAs were re-elected in 1996 under two new party labels. Gordon Wilson, who led the Liberal resurgence, subsequently lost the party leadership and created a short-lived entity called the Progressive Democratic Alliance. He was re-elected in Powell River-Sunshine Coast as a PDA MLA, but later switched to the NDP. Jack Weisgerber and Richard Neufeld, former Social Credit MLAs, joined the Reform Party of British Columbia and won re-election. Weisgerber later retired, while Neufeld joined the Liberal caucus.

It is evident that relatively few cnadidates win election to the legislature under minor party banners, and that many of those who do had earlier won their seats with a different, and often major, party. The notable exceptions were the CCF in 1933, and the Liberals in 1991, and both of those parties were part of national organizations.

Check in daily for Battleground BC, Will McMartin’s voting predictions and analysis, exclusive to The Tyee. You can reach him with tips, insights and info at  [Tyee]