Putting their name on the ballot

Along with the Conservatives, NDP, Liberals and Greens, there’s a fifth party running in the Manitoba provincial election: the Communist Party of Canada – Manitoba.

The party has five candidates running for a spot in the legislature, Cheryl-Anne Carr for Minto, Lisa Gallagher for Brandon West, Frank Komarniski for Burrows, David Tymoshchuk for Logan, and Darrell Rankin, who is the leader of the Manitoba Communists, for Point Douglas.

Rankin has been the leader of the Communist Party in Manitoba since 1995, joining the Communist Party of Canada in 1978. He ran for the Winnipeg Centre riding in the federal election this past spring.

A large focus of the party’s platform is jobs and education, said Rankin. The party supports eliminating tuition fees for students and building free student housing, he explained, though he couldn’t speak to specifics of how the party would implement such policies.

The party would also focus on combating high school dropout rates in Manitoba by taking away the emphasis on truancy officers and fines for parents who fail to keep their children in school. Instead, the party would “pay students and families to continue their education and stop punishing dropouts and their parents,” Rankin said.

“We’re not here to write the legislation right now, but in the campaign we’re setting a general approach to resolving a very significant issue for Manitoba [ . . . ],” he said.

Founded in 1921, the party has campaigned for socialist ideals for close to a century, Rankin noted.

“After 90 years, I suppose we have got some things right [ . . . ],” he said.
“The people’s agenda that we’re campaigning for in this election is really what you would call a present version of what we campaigned for in the ’20s and ’30s, [ . . . ] to create a comprehensive view of what a just society would look like.”

The Communist Party of Canada – Manitoba won their last seat in a provincial election in 1936, and no candidates outside the Liberals, NDP and Conservative parties have been elected to the legislative assembly since 1969.

Jared Wesley, a political scientist at the University of Manitoba and the University of Alberta, explained minor parties have not typically done well electorally in Manitoba since the province did away with the single transferable vote system, or proportional representation, in 1958.

“It’s not that there’s something in the water that makes Manitoba adverse to minor parties, it’s just our first-past-the-post electoral system [ . . . ] has meant that typically Manitobans don’t look to these minor parties as electoral alternatives,” he said.

Typically, minor parties are most successful when they exert “blackmail potential” on the major parties of the system, he explained.

“Black mail potential is a technical term; [ . . . ] it’s not meant to say these parties hold the other party ransom, but what it means is they have enough influence to pull one of the major parties to their camp either on their issues or to their side of the ideological spectrum,” Wesley said.

Wesley pointed to the Wildrose Party of Alberta as an example of this kind of influence in Canadian politics, for their ability to pull the Alberta Conservatives to the right on a number of issues.

“The most successful minor parties will exert that kind of power over major parties that are similar to them, so if those parties don’t listen, then they will pull supporters away and give an election to an opponent,” he explained.
Minor parties may also find success at focusing on one or two issues and hoping they become salient once the media picks up on their efforts. Wesley cited the Pirate Party of Canada as a good example of this strategy in the last federal election.

“Nobody thought they had a chance of winning a seat, but the fact that they were running put their issue of Internet freedom on the agenda,” he said.

Wesley pointed out that it is very difficult for minor parties to gain much influence, particularly in provincial politics, where most voters don’t see many options other than the major parties.

“It’s a long process that requires you to maintain a level of support and a level of dedication that most parties can’t muster,” he said. “But more than anything, these parties face a first-past-the-post electoral system that really doesn’t offer incentives for voters to cast a vote in their favour.”