British Columbia·Feature

To dream the impossible dream: the major ambitions of B.C.'s 'minor' parties

They have less money and attention than candidates from the big parties — but these candidates don't lack for confidence.

15 parties not named the Liberals, NDP or Greens are running candidates in this election

Billy Gibbons, candidate for the B.C. Cascadia Party, talks to voters in Port Coquitlam on Apr. 21, 2017. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

With a scruffy beard, Billy Gibbons approaches people outside the Terry Fox library in Port Coquitlam wearing a jean jacket, shorts and flanked by a 1973 Airstream Argosy painted in his party's colours.  

"Hi there. I'm Billy Gibbons. I'm running for MLA in the upcoming provincial election for the Cascadia Party of British Columbia," he says, explaining that it's a new party. 

Some people keep walking, but many stop to listen to the 46-year-old's pitch for the Cascadia movement based on the west coast of B.C., Washington State and Oregon. Some peer curiously at the business card he holds out.

He's one of two candidates from the Cascadia Party, and one of 114 candidates in this election who aren't part of the three major parties, all hoping to buck historical trends and become MLAs. 

Like most of the so-called fringe candidates, Gibbons lacks the multi-million dollar war chest. He lacks the small army of staff and volunteers. He lacks the experience and name recognition that incumbent politicians enjoy, and he's running against NDP candidate Mike Farnworth, who has held this seat for 22 of the last 26 years.

Gibbons lives in the Argosy trailer he tows behind a 1991 GMC pickup truck. The truck has big hand-painted signs advertising his candidacy on each side, and the trailer has been hand-painted with the Cascadia colours — blue, white and green.

"We've rolled up our sleeves and put in some honest effort to get it done," he said, adding that he paid buddies to help roll on the Tremclad paint.

Gibbons has taken time off from his job in film production and managed to put away about $5,000 to get him to the election.

"I think I'm down to about $1,500 left that I can spend," he said. "That's it, and if it runs out before the election's up, I have to go back to work."

The candidate is earnest, down to earth and acutely aware he's facing an uphill battle.

"Let's call it a race. Let's look at a foot race. You don't expect to win your first race going out as a runner," said Gibbons, who's proud to have gotten his papers filed in time to run and already considers the huge effort a success.

Gibbons speaks to voters outside the Terry Fox library in Port Coquitlam, B.C., on Apr. 21, 2017. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Parties new — and old 

Gibbons believes his new party can lead British Columbians to a better future — but others are inspired by the past.

Mike Henshall is running for the Social Credit Party, which led B.C. for 36 of 39 years from 1952 to 1991 but hasn't run more than a handful of people in any election since.

"The B.C. Social Credit brand, it's like a breath of fresh air," said Henshall, a real estate agent.

"Historically, the province has never been as prosperous as it was with the Socreds ... under W.A.C Bennett, every sector of B.C. society was working, and I believe that provides a healthy foundation for an economy, when you have a resource-based economy that is booming," said Henshall, who is running in Fraser-Nicola. 

But he's aware of the challenges.

"It's tough sledding. We're dealing with parties that have a lot of money. It's tough for individuals that are actually considering taking part in the political process to actually get momentum to stand up and have a voice." 

Your Political Party Leader James Filippelli campaigns outside Science World on Apr. 21, 2017. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

'I can sit back and complain ... or I can get out here and try and make a difference'

Some have been trying to chip away at the established parties for a while.

James Filippelli, a 34-year-old electrician who's running in Vancouver-False Creek, founded the Your Political Party in 2002 and first ran for office in 2005.

This year, the YPP has 10 candidates, and plenty of signs, banners, volunteers and professional branding.

"We really want to bring complete transparency to the people of British Columbia," said Filippelli. "What gets me up is talking to people every day and hearing that that's a big issue of concern of them."

On Friday, Filippelli, a few of his YPP candidates and some volunteers were in front of Science World in Vancouver waving signs and getting honks from passing motorists. 

Filippelli was handing out pamphlets, pens and mints with the line, "Fresh breath, fresh ideas?"

Plenty of passersby took the mints, and some people stopped to engage in discussion about their political ideas.

"We are working with a pretty low budget, but we have got a lot of great volunteers that have helped us create the branding, helped us to put together a good website. When people hear the ideas, they're willing to step forward," said Filippelli,

​He hopes to see YPP run candidates across the province in 2021 — an optimistic goal only matched by his optimism for the democratic process.  

"I'm going to live here in B.C. my whole life," he said.

"I can sit back and complain about politics or I can get out here and try and make a difference in it."

Follow Rafferty Baker and Justin McElroy on Twitter

now