In two months, my home province of British Columbia will be heading to the polls. I'm looking forward to the campaign, and hopefully in displacing the long-ruling BC Liberal government, which has had a continuous legislative majority since the 2001 elections that obliterated the BC New Democratic Party. Now, politics in British Columbia are different from the rest of Canada, so here are the important players.
BC Liberal Party - Their leader and the current Premier is Christy Clark, who became Premier after winning the party leadership after former Premier Gordon Campbell was appointed High Commissioner to London. Premier Clark was, at the time, a radio host and former member of the Legislature, and won the leadership after a protracted leadership campaign. The BC Liberals, contrary to their name, are the main 'conservative', free enterprise party in British Columbia. Their membership reflects a combination of national Liberals and Conservatives, and is the direct successor to the Social Credit Party as the leader of the capitalist, free enterprise coalition in British Columbia. The Liberal Party vote has a floor of around 40% that does not leave the party, no matter what.
BC New Democratic Party - Like their federal cousins, the New Democratic Party is the progressive, social democratic party in British Columbia. Our (Full disclaimer/disclosure: I'm a paying member of the BC NDP and have served as a party officer since 2009) leader is John Horgan, who won the leadership in late 2013 after our previous leader surrendered a 25 point lead in the polls. The party and its predecessor the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation have been the main social democratic party in British Columbia since 1933, and has been one of the top two parties in terms of vote share and seat count since the party's inception. With the exception of 2001's massacre, the party can consistently expect around 38% of the vote in any given election.
BC Green Party - A progressive leaning Green Party that focuses on sustainable development and environmental protection as their main policies. The Green Party is lead by Andrew Weaver, an environmental scientist from the University of Victoria, and he is currently their only elected member of the Legislature. The party has been experimenting with new policy ideas, including a proposed pilot project for a universal basic income. The BC Green Party was created by dissident New Democrats in the 1990s, angry that the NDP government of the decade opened up part of the Great Bear Rainforest to development. Some recent polling has shown the Green Party surging in support across the province, taking around 20% of the popular vote.
BC Conservative Party - The BC Conservatives are a new party, fighting their second election in their newly constituted form. Parties with the name 'BC Conservative' have come and gone, with the party being de-registered as an active party at several points over the last seventy years. The party currently has no leader after the previous leader, Dan Brooks, resigned the leadership for the second time in as many years. The party is not currently included in many election polls.
With all of that contexty stuff out of the way, let's get to the interesting bits, the actual campaign!
This year's election is being fought over the context of a number of different economic strains on the budget. Last November, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the BC Liberals unconstitutionally destroyed the teachers' contracts and required the government to reduce student-teacher ratios and class composition (the number of students with individualized education plans) back to the 2002 ratios. This necessitated over a billion dollars in new funding to the public education system and the subsequent hiring of over three thousand new teachers (a process that is still ongoing). This is a particularly black mark for Premier Clark, as she was the Minister of Education that initially destroyed those contracts. Adding to the financial strain on the government is the Ministry of Children and Family Development, which has been repeatedly under attack by critics for allowing children in care to die, and without even ensuring adequate care for the children. As a case in point, the most recent investigation covered an 18 year old in care who was placed into a motel as his housing by the Ministry. Additional funding has been promised, which has impacted the budget projections for the government.
The Liberals have also been rocked by various ethics controversies, including accusations made against Health Ministry workers that directly led to the suicide of an accused graduate student who was later found to be innocent of the accusations. Finally, the government has been frustrated in its attempts to create a liquefied natural gas industry in the province, and failed to halt federal approval for the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion leading to the Pacific Ocean.
In the government's favour is the fact that the NDP hasn't won an election since 1996, and has only won three times in all of its history in British Columbia. The Liberals have much more money to spend on the campaign, and most of their incumbents are running again. Many of them also remember that at this time before the last election, they were trailing by 25%, so being in a tied election right now is a far more comfortable position for them than they faced the last time they faced the electorate.
The NDP, traditionally supported by the labour unions, is facing an internal revolt as private sector construction unions are beginning to endorse the anti-union Liberals, thanks to the Liberals support for massive construction projects that would lead to more union jobs in the province. This has sapped the organizational strength from the New Democrats going into the election, at a time where they could potentially be capitalizing on Liberal failures. The New Democrats also face renewed strength in the BC Green Party which shares an electoral base, especially on Vancouver Island where nearly a third of the NDP caucus is elected.
My home district is a bellweather riding that normally votes with the overall provincial winner, though in 2013 we backed the NDP thanks to superb organizing and volunteer efforts. I'll be interested to see whether the parties can break out of their traditional bases. The Liberals have strength in rural and suburban British Columbia, but face difficulties in some of the inner suburbs and the main cities, as well as Vancouver Island. To win, the NDP has to start performing in rural British Columbia and sweeping the suburbs along with its traditional progressive coalition. For the Greens, winning more than just the leader's seat will be seen as a successful campaign, though some Green insiders are hoping to supplant the NDP as the main opposition party to the Liberals.
That's a lot to take in about the BC Politics scene, so let's all take a quick break before I start talking about my favourite subject - my political career.
In 2018, the municipal elections will be happening (In Canada, different levels of governments have elections in separate years from each other). I'm planning on contesting the local school board elections in my hometown. The place I live is one of the few communities in British Columbia with organized municipal political parties, and my relationship with the dominant party would be considered strained at best. They have accepted me again as a paying member of the party, but in the past years I've attempted to defend my seat on the executive and was defeated for opposing the party stance on affordable housing. Since that's an issue of Council and not the school board, I'm hoping that it will not be used as a weapon against me in any potential nomination contest.
For those who don't know, I'm currently a private school teacher teaching in Downtown Vancouver. Now that I've been on the teacher side of the field, I see the importance of strong leadership in education, and I'm hoping that my past experiences in policy formation and execution will help me as a potential school board trustee.
Beyond the negative publicity of attacking my own party, the members who turn out for nomination races do otherwise have a favourable opinion of me, particularly those who have served with me in the leadership. There's also residual support in the LGBTQ community in the city due to my organizing and lobbying in favour of a local anti-discrimination school board policy that was enacted in 2011. Passing the policy over vocal objection both on and off the school board garnered lots of positive media coverage, but after seven years those views are unlikely to have remained with the electorate.
Which is fine, I'm not running to defend the policy or even to expand it. While I'm proud of the work I did to create the policy and defend it in the election of 2011, I'm not focusing on it as a campaign platform. My focus is to be on expanding access to trades training programs and advanced placement programs. The province, in partnership with the local school boards, offers a program known as ACE-IT, which provides students with practical experience and their first year trades training in a trade of their choice. The program is entirely funded by the district, and helps reduce the time needed to become a journeyman tradesperson. However, there's a lack of knowledge about these programs being available, and each school only offers a few of the programs, creating a patchwork where students in some parts of the city do not have access to the ACE-IT program at all. Expansion of the College Board's Advance Placement Capstone program is another goal of mine. It's currently being run as a pilot program in two of the eight secondary schools in the district, and I'd like to expand that program to all students in order to provide that additional benefit to students pursuing post-secondary educations.
Of recent issue is the idea of the district being a 'sanctuary district'. While I'm supportive in principle, I'm interested to see what happens with the new policy and how the district staff interact with federal immigration authorities over the next year.
This is service for me. I believe in giving back to the community and the schools that helped shape me, and while I have no quarrel with any of the school board trustees currently on the board, I feel that many of them have served their community for long enough, and that new voices are needed to replace those individuals seeking their eleventh term on the school board. Changing educational technology and new pedagogical practices necessitates the need for new voices at the board of education to ensure that the students of my city are best served, especially with the rollout of new provincial curriculum guidelines and additional provincial funding to uphold the Supreme Court ruling. As a new teacher who's recently obtained my teaching certificate, I feel that I would be an articulate voice for the new generation of educators that is not being heard at the board level right now.
Whew. That's all of it. I'll write another one of these soon, but I'd love to hear what people think about the BC Political scene, or any advice for a campaign I may or may not end up running. For the record, this won't be the first campaign I've run or worked on. I've been a past campaign manager, past candidate and past paid staffer for a few campaigns, so I already know what kind of costs are going to be involved.
See you later blog buddies!