Mainstream political leaders, unions and anti-racism activists are concerned about a slate of candidates in British Columbia’s upcoming municipal elections that include candidates with far-right policies widely described as “extreme.”
At last week’s Union of BC Municipalities conference, multiple elected mayors and councillors told CTV News they were increasingly anxious about anti-vaccine, anti-SOGI, and pro-Freedom Convoy candidates jockeying for positions in local government, with the purported goal of promoting those agendas.
But the sources, who would not speak publicly on the matter, are worried the overall goal may simply be disrupting the democratic system, which is already seeing politicians of various stripes harassed and threatened in an increasingly polarized and toxic political environment.
Many of the aspiring municipal politicians are former candidates for the People’s Party of Canada, while others are supporters of the party or share similar views.
Some of them appear to have been galvanized when PPC leader Maxime Bernier was in Sooke, B.C., speaking to supporters in mid-August. At the time, he urged them to “engage at the municipal level, at the school board level” because he believed “the radical left is everywhere and we need to take their place.”
SAME OLD? OR GALVANIZED BY CONVOY?
University of the Fraser Valley associate professor of political science Hamish Telford pointed out that B.C. has “always had fringe candidates, marginal candidates or extremist candidates,” in part because only 25 signatures and a $100 deposit are required to run.
But the executive vice-president for the BC General Employees’ Union believes this time is different in the wake of social networks and links formed between supporters of the “Freedom Convoy,” as well as those who attended anti-vaccine, anti-mandate rallies.
“We’re seeing this more widespread, more well-funded, more organized,” said James Coccola, who believes vague policies and statements on some of the candidates’ websites may mislead voters.
“It doesn’t take much for someone with really harmful ideology to put their name forward, hide what they really stand for, and get elected. And then they can do a lot of damage.”
Removing protections and education around the provincially approved Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) program in schools is a key rallying point at the school board level, while municipal governments are seen as an influence on public health mandates, which are actually provincial jurisdiction.
A CONSEQUENTIAL ELECTION
On Thursday, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network published a piece titled “New Vancouver Island org bringing candidates with far-right politics to school board elections,” and linking candidates to intolerant viewpoints.
“You really need to care about these local-level elections, these school board elections,” insisted CAHN education facilitator Hazel Woodrow.
“We are electing people who have the ability to create policy that directly determines health outcomes and social outcomes for some of the most vulnerable students in our communities.”
A union-affiliated group calling itself “Unmask the Right” is making similar allegations and trying to raise awareness about the issue, but Telford points out it’s really up to people to do their homework and decide whether they support what candidates stand for.
“It’s really a case of ‘voter beware,’” he said. “Voters have to do the work to find out who these people are.”
The premier was asked about the issue at the UBCM conference and confirmed he’s heard the same concerns from mayors worried about candidates with extreme or intolerant viewpoints getting a foothold in decision-making.
“Their number is small and if you don’t put a label on them, if you don’t put them on a ballot, they can pretend to be a majority, but they are not,” John Horgan said of the People’s Party and their supporters.
“When they put up their hand up and say, ‘Vote for us, we’re angry at everything,’ and they get annihilated, that gives me hope that communities and people are focussed more on positive outcomes, not just being angry.”