The British Columbia Marijuana Party (BCMP), the insurgent provincial electoral force greased with $150,000US of cannabis entrepreneur Marc Emery's profits and represented by a colorful cast of campaigners (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/180.html#bcparty), fell short of pre-election predictions, but managed to garner some 52,000 votes and score five third-place finishes in the province's 79 legislative assembly districts. Party leaders told DRCNet last month they hoped to pick up some second-place finishes.
The BCMP's ability to run candidates in all 79 districts put it in the record books as the first modern British Columbia party to run a full slate of candidates in its first electoral go-round. In last week's elections, only the national Liberal and New Democratic parties managed to do as well, while the other minor parties, the BC Greens and the Unity Party, were unable to run candidates for many districts. (By the way, the Liberals trounced the reigning New Democrats to take control of the provincial government.)
The party's best showing was in Peace River North, where candidate Paul Renaud took 9.4% of the vote. Other BCMP strongholds were Port Moody Westwood, where Graeme Smecher polled 6.36% of the vote, and Skeena, where Bob Erb grabbed 6.15%. Party leader Brian Taylor, who got 785 votes in the West Kootenay Boundary district, was upstaged by his 25-year-old daughter Teresa, who captured the party's highest popular vote total with 1,136 and polled 5.6% in the conservative Okanagan-Westside district.
Taylor, the former mayor of Grand Forks and currently owner of the Cannabis Research Institute, told DRCNet the party had nonetheless made valuable strides. "We had a major impact on the debate, the press loved us -- or at least to write about us -- and the party has become a significant new voice in BC's political spectrum," he said.
"I think we have a mandate, although not from those who we thought would vote for us," Taylor laughed ruefully. "We didn't get the pot grower vote or we would have had 25-30%. Instead we got the votes of grandmothers, of frustrated teachers, the conscience vote of young people, and of people who like our larger platform. We found a hole in the political landscape." But, he added, "We hoped to do a little better. Still, we understand change takes time," he told DRCNet. "Our approach is to go about this in an effective manner, through the vote, through lobbying, through education -- that was a big part of the campaign -- and to inch forward incrementally."
Marc Emery, the party's combination eminence grise and sugar daddy, also looked to the future. "We want to build a political infrastructure, so all of those 79 candidates are going to go back and build a local organization now, to build up credibility over the next four years," he told the Westender (Vancouver) newspaper. "This is all about working for the next election. Now our plan is to open constituency offices across the province," said Emery. "These locations should act as retail stores, selling books, pipes and hemp products, as well as becoming headquarters for compassion clubs and other activist projects."
But building the party may have to compete with defining the party. With this campaign, the party began a metamorphosis from a single-issue "legalize marijuana" party to a generally small-L libertarian party advocating an ideology of personal freedom and limited government. But it's not a done deal, said Taylor.
"This is an ongoing debate within the party," he told DRCNet. "Now the party will have to grapple with the issue of being only a marijuana party or going on to forge a broader platform. There is heated debate over changing the name, but what we're really fighting about is whether we're going to take on a broader political role or whether we're going to continue simply as marijuana fighters," said Taylor.
"I believe we have to have a solid, rounded platform for people to vote for us. It's essential that we have more than the marijuana issue. There is a heated debate about whether we should change the name. Marc Emery argued that we need to keep the marijuana issue in people's faces, and on one level he is correct. Having marijuana in our name allowed us to get 79 candidates," Taylor averred. "We couldn't have done that as the Freedom Party. We knew we would get beaten up over the name -- people would get so angry they would stutter just trying to say the word. It inspires a violent visceral reaction from some voters."
But, said Taylor, perhaps it is now time to move beyond a single-issue party with marijuana in its name. "Now that we've woken up the electorate, maybe we can create a broader political structure for this phenomenon," he told DRCNet. "We see a constituency of guys just trying to make a living, and I think a broader Freedom Party will have a broader appeal. "What we need and what we will have is a party convention. So far the party has been shaped by the candidates, Marc Emery, and myself. I'd love to lead a party, but I need to know what that party is and what we stand for," Taylor sighed.