Book excerpt on political party participation
POLITICAL PARTIES AND HOW TO PARTICIPATE IN THEM
To most people, political parties are mysterious animals. We hear of them and understand how they impact us, but most of us don’t take part or understand exactly how they function. If more people don’t become directly involved in party organizations, those parties will be subject to the whims of a tiny minority.
People are often frustrated with the indifference displayed by politicians between elections. When they are seeking your vote, it seems you can’t escape them; they’re phoning, knocking on your door, and filling your mailbox on a daily basis. After the election, most of them vanish. If you want to influence these people between elections, you need to work within the party.
Let’s begin by saying we can’t keep trying to change things through parties that have independence as a main platform. I know, that sounds odd in a book that purports to promote western independence. I’m not trying to tell independence supporters to go underground or give up on party politics. I am using my experience and a pragmatic approach to point out a hard reality.
Bear with me. One-trick pony Political parties are an intrinsic part of our system and no push for independence will be successful without their involvement. While party members and even elected representatives can be openly in support of western independence, no party should explicitly promote independence objectives as part of their mandate or identity. It leads to division, dilution of the vote, and will set back the independence movement. If anything, the constant spawning of political parties for independence divides the movement when people should be working as one for the common goal.
People only have so much capital in dollars, time, and emotion to invest in political movements. If their resources are split too many ways, the secession movement will atrophy.
Advocates for independence should be involved in political parties.
It’s only through direct party involvement we can be assured pro-independence candidates are selected in nominations and that policies always reflect the interests of the West. That said, a party that goes by independence in name, or as its primary mandate will soon be dead in the water. The first problem with an explicitly secessionist party is that it turns it into a single-issue entity. The party might have all the best possible policies—it won’t matter. As soon as secession is in the name, it’s the brand identity people will focus on and it will dilute support immediately.
No one is going to ask a candidate with the Marijuana Party what their stance is on public health care is, neither will anyone concern themselves with the education policies of the Green Party. This is what keeps these parties in the realm of protest- and fringe voter options. They certainly can get messaging out on their prime issues, but they have limited impact on electoral outcomes because of their one-dimensional nature.
I understand the impatience only too well, and the desire to take something of a purist, partisan approach to western independence. When I founded the Alberta Independence Party in 2000, I had the party pursue nothing less than full independence. At our founding convention, a motion was put forward to embrace the term “Separation if necessary, but not necessarily separation.” I was angry and frustrated. I believed we’d immediately sacrificed our entire reason for being simply for the sake of political expediency. I was right and wrong at the same time.
I respected the will of the membership, however, and heading into the election, I abided by the policy of soft-separatist campaign messaging. While our candidates did relatively well as far as independent candidates go, none came anywhere close to impacting a local race.
Mine was the constituency of Banff-Cochrane and I received a paltry 4 percent of the vote while our best candidate got 8 percent. I felt at the time our poor electoral showing was due to our flaccid stance on independence. We offered little distinction from other conservative entities in the field.
When the 2004 Alberta provincial election came, there was a registered independence party in the mix. The Separation Party of Alberta (SPA) entered the election with twelve candidates. Surely, a registered political party with no ambiguity about its secession goals would do much better than it did in 2001 right? Wrong.
On average, SPA candidates received about 3 percent of the vote in their constituency. I received 2.9 percent of the vote in Highwood. It was an electoral blowout. The SPA failed to make any significant inroads and went pretty much unnoticed during the election. We learned some hard lessons, one especially: an explicitly secessionist party can’t gain traction on the electoral road.
While I was door-knocking during the campaign, I couldn’t escape the reality that we were a single-issue party. The only thing we talked about was secession. How could we speak on issues such as taxation, health care, pensions, and so on? People couldn’t know if we offered any benefit.
We also learned just how divisive and noxious the word “separatist” is. Violent separatist movements around the world have created for it very negative connotations. While the intent was to avoid ambiguity, the separatist reference in our party’s name made us unsaleable. Now, I use the term “independence” or “secession.” I recommend others do the same.
This chapter continues with guidance on how to participate in political parties from buying a membership to taking part in candidate nominations.......