Good morn­ing from Coquitlam!

As we announced ear­li­er this week, I am vis­it­ing our north­ern neigh­bors this week­end to cov­er the 2013 British Colum­bia provin­cial elec­tions, which will con­clude this Tues­day, May 14th. Whichev­er par­ty wins will most like­ly form B.C.‘s next gov­ern­ment and run the province for the next few years… so the out­come has impor­tant ram­i­fi­ca­tions both here and for us in the Unit­ed States.

That’s why I’m here.

B.C. JournalOver the last few weeks and months, I’ve tried to immerse myself in British Colum­bia pol­i­tics (well, at least to the extent I could with­out being there).

Though Wash­ing­ton and Ida­ho share a bor­der with B.C., and though B.C. shares an ecore­gion with us, its pol­i­tics are in many ways more sim­i­lar to the Unit­ed King­dom’s than ours, owing to the province’s British her­itage. (There’s a rea­son it’s called British Columbia!)

In B.C., the two major polit­i­cal par­ties are the B.C. Lib­er­als and the B.C. New Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, or BCNDP for short. The Lib­er­als, despite their name, are actu­al­ly the province’s major con­ser­v­a­tive par­ty; the NDP is the province’s pro­gres­sive polit­i­cal par­ty. (Up here, the words lib­er­al and pro­gres­sive would not be equat­ed as refer­ring to the same world­view and val­ues sys­tem as in the Unit­ed States).

The B.C. NDP is affil­i­at­ed with the Cana­di­an fed­er­al NDP (which became the oppo­si­tion par­ty in Ottawa for the first time in the last elec­tion) but the B.C. Lib­er­als have no for­mal affil­i­a­tion with the nation­al Lib­er­al Par­ty, now led by the young and charis­mat­ic Justin Trudeau. As this is a provin­cial elec­tion, the B.C. Lib­er­als and the B.C. NDP are square­ly focused on region­al and local issues; with nation­al issues being viewed through a West Coast lens.

There is a Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty up here, by the way, but it holds no seats in the B.C. Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly and is influ­en­tial only to the extent that it can be a spoil­er in a close elec­tion, like the Lib­er­tar­i­an Par­ty or the Green Par­ty here in the Unit­ed States. And speak­ing of the Green Par­ty, British Colum­bia has a Green Par­ty too — but it shares a sta­tus sim­i­lar to that of the Con­ser­v­a­tive Party.

British Colum­bia, like Cana­da and oth­er Com­mon­wealth realms, is a par­lia­men­tary democ­ra­cy orga­nized accord­ing to the West­min­ster sys­tem. That means the head of gov­ern­ment (called the Pre­mier in British Colum­bia) plus his or her min­is­ters come from the leg­isla­tive assem­bly. When vot­ers empow­er one par­ty to gov­ern as the major­i­ty par­ty, that par­ty forms the gov­ern­ment that runs the province.

Some­times, the elec­torate is so split that no one par­ty wins a major­i­ty of seats in an elec­tion. When this hap­pens, a coali­tion gov­ern­ment of two or more par­ties usu­al­ly forms, and gov­erns joint­ly through a pow­er-shar­ing agreement.

At present, with the excep­tion of two inde­pen­dents, only mem­bers of the B.C. Lib­er­als and B.C. NDP hold seats in the Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly in Vic­to­ria, and that is not expect­ed to change on Tues­day when the elec­tion concludes.

This elec­tion is thus pri­mar­i­ly a con­test between the B.C. Lib­er­als and the B.C. NDP. The Lib­er­als are cur­rent­ly the major­i­ty par­ty in the Assem­bly, and the NDP is the oppo­si­tion par­ty. The NDP, led by Adri­an Dix, is cam­paign­ing hard to turn out the Lib­er­als, led by Christy Clark. Clark present­ly serves as Pre­mier; if her par­ty is defeat­ed on Tues­day, Dix will become the next Premier.

In Cana­da and in British Colum­bia, polit­i­cal par­ties tru­ly run what we in Wash­ing­ton State would call a “coor­di­nat­ed” cam­paign. The par­ties pro­vide all sorts of sup­port and logis­tics for their can­di­dates — includ­ing web host­ing, as you can see from brows­ing around the B.C. NDP’s clean and ele­gant web­site.

Because the pre­mier­ship usu­al­ly goes to the MLA (Mem­ber of the Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly) who serves as the leader of the major­i­ty par­ty, the par­ty lead­ers are very much the pub­lic faces of their respec­tive par­ties. Their pho­tos are everywhere.

The pre­mier­ship is a fair­ly pow­er­ful posi­tion. Think of it as equiv­a­lent to Jay Inslee and Frank Chop­p’s posi­tions in Wash­ing­ton State (gov­er­nor and speaker).

The per­son serv­ing as pre­mier is essen­tial­ly the exec­u­tive of the province, but is indi­rect­ly elect­ed, unlike Jay Inslee, Butch Otter, or John Kitzhaber.

A B.C. vot­er want­i­ng to see Adri­an Dix as the next pre­mier can’t actu­al­ly vote for Dix unless he or she lives in Dix’s rid­ing (rid­ing is Cana­di­an for dis­trict). Dix’s chances of becom­ing pre­mier thus rest on the suc­cess of the NDP as a whole in the provin­cial elec­tions, just as Christy Clark’s fate is tied to that of the B.C. Liberals.

(Clark’s own rid­ing, inci­den­tal­ly, is hot­ly con­test­ed — the NDP has a cred­i­ble can­di­date run­ning against her and he could be vic­to­ri­ous on Tues­day).

As this is the last Sat­ur­day and Sun­day before the polls close on Tues­day, it’s GOTV week­end up here in British Colum­bia, and all of the par­ties are work­ing to turn out their sup­port­ers. Ear­ly vot­ing (or advance polls) began here last Wednes­day, and con­tin­ues this week­end in all of the province’s eighty-five ridings.

This morn­ing, B.C. NDP leader Adri­an Dix is cam­paign­ing with MLA hope­ful Chris Wil­son in the Coquit­lam-Burke Moun­tain rid­ing, which is one of fif­teen to twen­ty swing rid­ings. The NDP is host­ing a pan­cake break­fast at Wilson’s cam­paign office just off High­way 7; Dix is expect­ed to address sup­port­ers and the press when he arrives in his cam­paign bus. That’s what I’m here in Coquit­lam to cov­er. It promis­es to be a good time; I’ll be post­ing a write­up (with pic­tures!) after it’s over.

Stay tuned for more per­spec­tive and report­ing on the B.C. provin­cial elections.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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