Electing First Nations candidates in BC – will 2017 be a big step forward?

When it comes to electing First Nations people from British Columbia to the Legislature or Parliament, all political parties have to do better.

The right of First Nations to vote was finally acknowledged in 1949 in BC (not until 1960 federally).  Nisga’a Frank Calder was elected from the riding of Atlin in 1949, representing the CCF.  He served most of the next 30 years as MLA from that riding.  In 1972, he was the first aboriginal person appointed to cabinet in BC, though was later removed by Premier Dave Barrett.  According to a biography of Calder, the NDP moved on from Calder, nominating another candidate in the 1975 election.  Calder left the NDP, joined the Social Credit Party, and was elected for the last time.  A recipient of the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia, Calder’s career deserves more attention, which included his leadership role in the Calder case, massively significant to the recognition of aboriginal rights and land claims.

Yet few others have followed in Calder’s wake.  Larry Guno was elected as an NDP MLA from Atlin between 1986-1991 but did not run again.  Until Melanie Mark was elected in the Mt. Pleasant by-election, there had been no First Nations representation since 1991 in the BC Legislature.  I was hopeful that Marian Wright, a former Chief, would succeed for the BC Liberals in 2009 in North Island but she fell short.

The story federally from BC isn’t any better.  Len Marchand was elected as a Liberal in Kamloops amidst the first round of Trudeamania in 1968.  He held the seat twice, and until 2015, had been the only Liberal to represent a seat in the Interior for decades.  Len went on to serve in the Senate.  He passed away last year, but left a considerable legacy.  In particular, he was a strong advocate for First Nations representation in Parliament.  He made an important point – First Nations populations are scattered across Canada with diluted voting strength on a riding by riding basis.  It was no coincidence that the only riding to elect a First Nations person was the one riding where First Nations had the numbers .  Len thought that aboriginal people should have guaranteed representation based on their proportion of the population.  It’s an interesting point and it remains to be seen if recent advances in representation make such a guarantee a moot point.

Marchand had been the only First Nations person elected to Parliament from BC, ever, until 2015.  Jody Wilson-Raybould became the second, and the first First Nations woman elected from BC since Confederation.  She busted through the ceiling and then some, with her appointment as Minister of Justice.

Today, there is a heightened awareness and advocacy for aboriginal representation in our institutions.  Provincial legislatures are starting to see higher levels of representation as is the federal Parliament.  Groups and networks have formed to promote indigenous representation.

But what about BC and this election?  Premier Christy Clark has made it a priority to recruit First Nations leaders to run as candidates.  She has three strong candidates running in seats held by the NDP that can be described as ‘swing’, meaning they should be close races.  Former Haisla Chief Councillor Ellis Ross is running in Skeena; Wanda Good, who has served as a deputy Chief and an advocate for First Nations women, is running in Stikine; and former Nanwakolas Council president Dallas Smith is running in North Island.

The Premier took some flak for appointing Ellis Ross as candidate in Skeena.  She did it because she felt she needed a leader like Ellis in the Legislature.  She went out and recruited Wanda and Dallas to the team as well, and ensured they have local teams to support them.  This week, the BC Liberals launched a 30-second TV spot promoting their First Nations candidates.  The party is making the election of these candidates a priority.

The NDP nominated and elected Melanie Mark in the Mt. Pleasant by-election.  Mark became the first First Nations woman elected to the BC Legislature which, like the election of Wilson-Raybould, was long, long overdue.

But then there is the curious case of the Fraser-Nicola riding.  Chief Aaron Sam of the Lower Nicola Indian Band, a lawyer, sought the NDP nomination.  NDP Leader John Horgan asked former MLA Harry Lali to stand down and make way for Sam.  Lali refused.  At this point, Horgan has a choice.  He can override Lali and appoint Sam, or he can let it play out.  Horgan let it play out and Lali, a four-term former MLA, got the votes.

Simply put, Horgan did not make the nomination of Chief Aaron Sam a top priority.  If he wanted to make it happen, he could have. The NDP can claim ‘local democracy’ but its nomination process is already a shambles when it comes grassroots democracy.  NDP minority-preference rules have already caused confusion and resentment in places like Columbia River-Revelstoke, Cowichan Valley, and Skeena.  I understand Horgan’s choice.  Nomination politics can be messy and Harry Lali would surely have not gone quietly into the night.  It just means one less First Nations leader seeking a seat in the Legislature, which is too bad considering our history.  It also means one less leadership moment for Horgan, especially at a time his party should be looking for renewal.

Premier Clark stuck her neck out and is proudly campaigning alongside three strong First Nations candidates.   So far the Greens (including Deputy Leader Adam Olsen) and NDP have two First Nations candidates each, perhaps more will emerge.  Let’s hope all parties in the future stick their necks out when necessary to get First Nations candidates on the ballot and into the Legislature.  It would make a difference.  From my side of the ledger, I hope to see Ellis, Wanda, and Dallas elected on May 9th.

BC Liberal candidates on video:

 

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BC Liberals renewing, NDP not so much

Updated (March 19, 5:30pm)

The renewal dynamic had a new twist on March 18th when NDP members rejected Leader John Horgan’s chosen candidate, Lower Nicola First Nations Chief Aaron Sam, and opted for Harry Lali who first won in 1991, re-elected in 1996, did not run in 2001, elected in 2005, re-elected in 2009, and defeated in 2013.  Lali’s candidacy puts a punctuation mark on my blog post.

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Andrew Weaver raised the issue of term limits for BC politicians.  He assumes that voters can’t make up their own mind whether they want to keep their MLA or not.  It’s not such a bad thing to have a bit of experience in the Legislature.  I suppose Andrew Weaver would have had Winston Churchill sit out WWII!  I can hear the cries of “Shame!” emanating from Oak Bay right now.

But renewal is important.  Most voters would say that “new blood” is important for our public institutions.  I certainly believe that.  Last election, Premier Christy Clark made a strong statement by recruiting a lot of new, strong candidates.  It was seen as one of the hallmarks of her success.  Half of her caucus was newly elected in 2013, which is uncommonly high.  This time, the Premier continues to recruit strong new candidates like First Nations leaders Ellis Ross, Wanda Good, and Dallas Smith; former Coast Capital CEO Tracy Redies; and former journalists Steve Darling and Jas Johal… just to name a handful from a very solid list.

DALLAS'[1].jpg

Premier Christy Clark serving up some renewal with candidates like Dallas Smith (North Island)

How have the BC Liberals and NDP renewed themselves? The past three provincial elections have seen a level of stability in BC and provides a basis to compare:

  • 2005: 46 BC Liberals vs 33 NDP
  • 2009: 49 BC Liberals vs 35 NDP vs 1 IND
  • 2013: 49 BC Liberals vs 34 NDP vs 1 IND vs 1 Green

In terms of renewal, you would think there would be more BC Liberals remaining from the class of 2005 than NDP since there were more BC Liberals elected.  In fact, the opposite is true.

  • There are 15 NDP MLAs from 2005 running for re-election in 2017.  That equates to 45% of NDP MLAs elected in 2005 still around to seek another term in office in 2017.  Plus Jagrup Brar, who was elected from 2004-2013, is seeking to return.  Harry Lali (1991-2001, 2005-2013) also now adds to this list.
  • The BC Liberals elected 46 MLAs in 2005 but only 9 remain today to run in the 2017 election.  Thus, less than 20% of BC Liberal MLAs elected in 2005 are running today.
  • Thus, using 2005 as a point of reference, the BC Liberals have renewed at more than twice the rate than the NDP.

Another way to look at it is that out of 87 ridings today, only 18 BC Liberal MLAs seeking re-election in 2017 were elected prior to 2013.  That group makes up only 20% of the BCL candidate slate, and only 43% of the current caucus (with the remainder having been elected in 2013).  That is also a pretty good renewal rate.

The BC NDP have 20 MLAs who have been around since prior to 2009 that are seeking re-election, which is 57% of their current caucus. Their renewal rate is lower.  NDP MLAs stick around longer, especially on Vancouver Island.

On Vancouver Island, there is only Michelle Stilwell seeking re-election for the BC Liberals and she was elected in 2013.  The NDP have 8 MLAs that were elected in 2005 and going for their fourth term.  That seems like the opposite of renewal and sets up a clear contrast between the parties.  For those Canucks fans arguing for a rebuild of the team, that’s what is happening on the Island for the BC Liberals.  After disappointing results in 2013, the BC Liberals have pressed reset, retooled, and relaunched with a slate of candidates that bring new energy.  Same old NDP faces, for the most part.

Andrew Weaver’s motivation to renew the Legislature is a good thing.  The BC Liberals have excelled at renewal compared to many modern political parties.  Perhaps Dr. Weaver is surrounded on Vancouver Island by so many BC NDP MLAs seeking a fourth term that he sees term limits as his only escape.  This time, there may be a cohort of first-term BC Liberal MLAs on the Island to ease his concerns… maybe even in Oak Bay.

For reference (Class of 2005):

2005 NDP 2005 BCL
Running in 2017 Out of office/retiring Running in 2017 Out of office/retiring
Fraser Simpson de Jong van Dongen
Chouhan Wyse Lee MacKay
D.Routley MacDonald Coleman Nuraney
Horgan Thorne Polak Bloy
Krog Gentner Bond Penner
Trevena Karagianis Reid Les
Farnworth Sather Yap Hagen
Simons Evans Sultan Roddick
Bains Puchmayer Rustad Bennett
Ralston Coons Richmond
Simpson Cubberley Krueger
Dix Austin Horning
James Hammell Hawkins
Fleming Kwan Hawes
Conroy Robertson Cantelon
 Brar (2004-2013) Chudnovsky Whittred
 Lali Jarvis
Chong
Christensen
Thorpe
Neufeld
17 16 9 Lekstrom
Barisoff
Black
Bell
Ililch
Coell
Abbott
Falcon
Hayer
Hogg
Mayencourt
Oppal
Taylor
Campbell
Hansen
McIintyre
37