BC’s third parties and the election

To go green, or not?

It’s BC provincial election time (May 9th!!) and my political attention (diminished for many reasons) turns inwards to the beautiful British Columbia where I live. BC’s independents, and parties like the Green Party and the Conservative party are trying to have their voices heard as alternatives to the main parties, the BC Liberals (a liberal-conservative coalition) and the NDP (a centre-left party). The Greens have an incumbent MLA in Andrew Weaver who is likely to be reelected, and appear to be focused on expanding their Greater Victoria presence while at least trying to run a province-wide campaign. The conservatives are in a bit of shambles and are unlikely to go very far, given conservative voices and policy are well represented by the BC Liberals. The sole independent MLA is not running for reelection.

Are you “tired” of the two main parties and planning on voting for a third party/independent? Some questions to consider:

  1. If third parties win, and the final result is a hung legislature with no clear majority for either of the big parties, who would they support? It’s not enough to guess based on policy. I would ask the candidate directly what they think, and personally, would not take a “we will decide later”, or “we will decide on an case by case” basis as an acceptable answer (YMMV). In a legislature where one party has a clear majority, a third party MLA is either opposition, an extension of the ruling party, or votes depending on the issues. Either way, they have no say in policy, or what becomes law. But in a hung legislature, their decisions matter. So, which way would they go? Given that the Green Party attacks both NDP and Liberal stances (the NDP’s with particular focus because it’s who they need to displace to expand their Greater Victoria base), the answer would not be clear to me just by looking at official pronouncements. The Green Party, like any party that aspires to major party status, has its own platform, but the platform seeks to differentiate from both major party platforms and hence does not tell me what they would do in case they hold the balance of power. I do not like the current system, but when I vote, I need to vote for someone who will support the policies I want enacted. The Green Party has been pushed on this support question repeatedly, and at the time of writing, did not commit (would not be in their interest to), but the fact that Andrew Weaver, their leader has said they are more comfortable with the Liberal Party leader Christie Clark (and that the NDP leader John Horgan makes them uncomfortable) suggests a lean, so policies, platform, everything else aside, a lean in support is important information.
  2. In a first past the post system, where the top vote getter wins the whole shebang with perhaps 1/3rd of the popular vote or less in cases, any vote to a candidate who does not have a realistic chance of winning a ride is an increased risk that your least preferred candidate will win. I do not like strategic voting, but as I said earlier, I want my vote to get people in positions where they can enact policy I support (or most likely, policies that will disappoint me the least in the aggregate!). So, in the absence of some clear, riding-specific, independent poll-based evidence that my third party candidate is at least close to getting the support needed to win, I will not vote for them, period. Saanich North/Gulf Islands could be an exception. It was a very interesting true, three way race last time. The same candidates are standing this time around, who knows what could happen! But, in general, there is evidence that vote splitting is a real problem for people who are making a change vote.
  3. If you’re tired of “partisanship” or the “two big parties”, and want to vote for an alternative, what does that mean exactly? BC has had 100% one party rule for the past 16 years, a time in which the opposition NDP had zero power to have any policies enacted. While they’ve had the opportunity to make some promises on removing policies that would annoy me (Axe the Carbon Tax in 2009, for example), it’s the policy aggregate and direction that matters, not necessarily individual decisions. I have a distinct preference for progressive, public and collective policy making, and given that they are the only major party to offer that, I am personally not tired of them yet, given they have not been in power this century (pretty much). I don’t always get distaste for “partisanship”. Humans are creatures of the tribe and want to belong. So, third parties that ask you to “look past the partisanship” and vote for them are just asking you to switch your tribal allegiance! The Green Party campaigns as hard and as negatively as all the other parties in the election (as they should, you campaign to win), they’re really no different, just new.

I have voted for parties I knew had no chance of winning in the past because I believed in them and it made me feel good to cast that vote. So, I will always understand that impulse. I will not act on it this time around. I have come around to the conclusion that voting in democracies in 2017 is as defensive an act as it is an aspirational one.


    1. Well, the Liberals are trying to hold power for as long as possible. The longer this vacuum exists, the more uncertain things get. The speaker issue will be resolved by having the speaker tie break all legislation as necessary, don’t think there’s any other choice. Less likely, the NDP will find a liberal willing to take a nice pay increase to be speaker.

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