VANCOUVER — While the Liberals and NDP jockey for position in British Columbia's May 17 election, the fringe parties in Lotusland are almost as thick on the ground as smoke is in the air at a Marijuana party campaign event.
Although not every riding may reflect it, there are 45 registered political parties in British Columbia, making democracy alive and well in the province.
But besides the novelty factor of some of these so-called fringe parties, Norman Ruff believes they can also serve a valuable purpose in the electoral process, as long as they don't undermine the main parties.
“If it gets some people aware there's an election on, it's a good thing,” said Ruff, a political scientist at the University of Victoria. “I regard them as harmless outlets.”
The parties range from the People of British Columbia Millionaires Party to the Communists.
However, if making money or figuring out how to redistribute it across the economic spectrum doesn't appeal to you, there's the Work Less party or the Sex Party.
In a satirical prod at the 40-hour work week, Work Less party faithful gathered recently at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Wearing rat noses and whiskers to poke fun at the rat race, they staged events such as the Church of Pointless Consumerism and were yelled at by a supervisor with management aspirations.
Party co-ordinator Conrad Schmidt said if they form the government, the work week would be reduced to 32 hours.
“We need time for the more important things in life,” said Schmidt, “time for things that are not only good for us but for the planet as well, like music, art, culture, sanity, family, friends.”
But maybe at the top of the list of B.C. fringe parties vying for seats, or perhaps comfortable beanbag chairs, is the Marijuana party, which attracted 1,000 pot smokers to its Toke the Vote campaign kickoff in downtown Vancouver during the first week of the election.
Party spokesman Kirk Tousaw said the party is aiming at having a pro-legalization candidate in every riding. “We've got at least half the ridings covered,” he added.
The party wants to ensure there are candidates who are “willing to talk loudly and longly about the issue of allowing the provinces to regulate marijuana in an above-ground market instead of Ottawa's federal criminal law pushing everything into the black market,” he said.
“Our party is the only party whose policy is going to make our neighbourhoods safer, whose policy is going to get commercial grow-operations out of neighbourhood basements and into farm and industrial areas.”
Party president Marc Emery is running in the Fort Langley-Aldergrove riding in suburban Vancouver against Solicitor General Rich Coleman.
With so many registered political parties in B.C., the province is a Canadian leader. Ontario, Quebec and Alberta each have nine parties.
In the 2001 B.C. election, the Marijuana party got 3.22 per cent of the popular vote, while 17 other parties combined to garner 1.98 per cent.
Noting the Marijuana party's rise in support four years ago, Ruff said it may help attract young people to the political process.
“Young people just aren't voting,” he said. “It's a major, serious problem to bring people into the political process. If the Marijuana party at least captures their attention, it's got a valuable role to play.”
If the Marijuana party's not your thing, you may want to swing to the Sex Party.
The party would support sex education that encourages sexual activity, but in a gradual and disciplined way, including instruction in “sexual gradualism” to teach teens to explore the “erotic responsiveness” of their bodies without contact with other people.
Other party policies include requiring all public parks and beaches larger than one hectare to designate areas for nudists. And Valentine's Day would be declared an official holiday.
The party wants to run candidates in all of B.C.'s 79 ridings under the leadership of John Ince, described as a 25-year veteran of issues around sexual justice and health. In the first week of the campaign, it had two candidates.
Unlike the Sex Party, the Annexation Party of British Columbia is less interested in coupling than uncoupling. It wants to sever B.C. from Canada and make the province America's 51st state.
“It is imminent that one day we the people of Canada will in one form or another become joined together with our brothers and sisters to the south, the United States of America,” party founder Gordon Brosseuk of nearby Langley wrote to President George W. Bush two years ago.
“It is my belief that the time has come for British Columbians to seek acquisition of this province by the United States.”
But should B.C. remain in Confederation, the Platinum Party of Employers Who Think and Act to Increase Awareness has pledged to hold those who work in government to the highest standards of behaviour.
Its mission statement says it will reveal “any and all incidences of civil mischievousness, deception and corruption of public policy.”
And if none of the above suit your political views, there is the Party of Citizens Who Have Decided to Think for Themselves and Be Their Own Politicians.
The party's website says it is not libertarian and that anarchists “are correctly regarded as political nut cases.” Unfortunately, the number listed for party spokesman Franklin Wayne Poley no longer works.