by Levi Minderhoud
*As ARPA’s British Columbia Manager, I’m going to discuss involvement in party politics in the British Columbian context, but the same principles apply anywhere in Canada.
Since its inception, ARPA Canada has chosen to be non-partisan. This allows ARPA as an organization to better engage with elected officials regardless of their partisan colour.
But we certainly encourage you to be partisan.
Being a member of a political party does not give you extra responsibilities within that political party. It does not take much time or money. It doesn’t even mean that you have to vote for that particular party at election time.
But it is important. Officially joining the political party that most closely aligns with your political philosophy gives you a special and amplified voice in partisan activities.
Why join a political party?
The typical Canadian has the opportunity to vote only once every four years at the provincial level. Joining a political party allows you to exert political influence far more often. It allows you to vote in three crucial activities:
- Leadership races determine who will be the next leader of a political party. Although these leadership races occur intermittently as needed, both the BC Liberal Party and BC NDP averages a leadership race every 6 years.
- Local candidate nomination contests determine who will be the candidate for a political party in a given riding. These nomination races occur before every single election for every part, although incumbent MLAs seeking re-election often get to skip this nomination contest.
- Policy conventions determine official party policy, and generally occur every two years for most political parties.
Thus, although the average British Columbian usually only gets to vote once every four years at the provincial level, members of a political party might get to vote five times (once in a general provincial election, once in a local nomination race, once in a leadership race, and twice in a policy convention) in the same span of time.
Not only to members of a political party get to vote far more often than non-political party members, but each of these votes by political party members has a far greater weight in these partisan activities.
Let me give you an example. Many ridings across British Columbia are relatively “safe seats,” meaning that they generally elect the representative of the same political party election after election. The riding of Abbotsford-Mission is a relatively safe seat for the BC Liberal Party. The BC Liberal candidate has always won the riding by over 20 percentage points and by over 5000 votes (out of 25,000) in the general provincial election. In political terms, that is an enormous margin of victory. Each individual vote has little impact on which party wins that riding in a general provincial election.
But before the general provincial election, the BC Liberal Party (and all other parties) had to nominate a candidate for that riding. In the nomination race, local party members voted for whomever they wish to be the party’s candidate in their riding. In the last BC Liberal nomination race for Abbotsford-Mission, the winning candidate won by 13 votes. Less than 200 people voted in that nomination race. If you compare the number of people who voted in the local nomination race (200 people) compared to the general provincial election (25,000 people), voting in this local nomination race was 125 times more impactful than voting in the general provincial election!
But is it really all that important to participate in choosing a party’s local candidate? Do candidates within the same political party really have different views on political issues?
Yes! Competitive political parties are typically “big-tent” or “brokerage” parties that try to appeal to different segments of the population. Individual candidates within the same party may have very different positions on important issues. One BC Liberal candidate can be pro-life and another pro-choice. One BC NDP candidate can support funding for Christian schools while another wants to pull all funding from Christian schools. One BC Green candidate may favour a very broad ban on conversion therapy, but another candidate may support Christian counselling for gender dysphoria.
The weight of your vote is also far greater in leadership races and policy conventions too. Many people don’t realize that the most impactful votes occur before the general election in these local nomination races, leadership races, or policy conventions.
Thus, it is crucially important to be involved in these local nomination races, leadership races, and policy conventions.
I will not tell you which political party to join, but I still urge you to join a provincial political party. The choice of which party is up to you. Do some research on the major political parties in British Columbia. I’ve done some initial digging for you here. Picking which political party to join can be difficult because no political party will ever represent your political values on every issue. The political party that best represents your views may also have a relatively small chance of winning a general provincial election or even your riding. Both of these factors – political philosophy and electability – require consideration when deciding which party to be a member of.
Holding a membership in a provincial political party and then voting within partisan nomination races, leadership races, and policy conventions are effective ways to bring a Christian perspective within the political system. But, do not wait until you hear of a leadership race, policy convention, or nomination contest to purchase a membership. By that time, it is often too late to become involved.
A friend recently remarked that politics is one of the highest forms of charity. Political engagement is an opportunity to glorify God and work for our neighbor’s good. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people” (Galatians 6:9-10).
Being a member of a political party gives us that opportunity. Seize it!
If you do decide to join a provincial political party in BC, please keep me posted about what opportunities are going on within the party in your riding so that I can share these opportunities with other ARPA supporters. You can email me at [email protected].
This article is an updated version of a previous article published in January 2020.