Politics

Fringe parties fight to spread message, sway swing ridings

There are now 20 political parties registered to run in the fall federal election. What drives these niche party leaders — and do they add or detract from the democratic process?

Pot, piracy and animal welfare some of the key issues for small parties

Rhinoceros Party leader Sebastien Corriveau, right, and candidate Ben 97 Benoit stand in front of a Tim Hortons in Montreal. The party is one of 20 registered so far for the fall's federal election. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Depending on the party, they love pot, hate Stephen Harper or just want to have fun.

Fringe parties are a perennial fixture in Canadian politics, and so far there are more than a dozen registered to run in this fall's federal election.

The best most can hope for is to scrape up a few thousand votes based on a niche platform or protest ballots from disenfranchised electors. So what drives them — and do they add or detract from the democratic process?

Former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Sinclair Stevens now heads the Progressive Canadian Party. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Sinclair Stevens, the 88-year-old leader of the Progressive Canadian Party, is mobilizing yet another campaign with one sole purpose: to defeat Stephen Harper.

"He has an agenda that is just not Canadian," he told CBC News.

20 political parties registered for federal election

Stevens, a former cabinet minister in Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney governments, was a bitter and legal opponent of the merger of the Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties. He plans to target up to 30 ridings — 15 of them in Ontario — where stealing even some votes from Tories in tight races could make a difference.

"We don't have a significant political following, but we can cause Harper a lot of trouble," he said.

There are now 20 political parties registered for the Oct. 19 federal election.

Marijuana Party of Canada Leader Blair Longley says pro-pot candidates in the other parties can't be trusted. (Blair Longley/Marijuana Party of Canada website)

In order to become registered, a party must sign up at least 250 members, and have at least one confirmed candidate.

In addition to a leader, the party must have three officers and an auditor, and once registered can issue official income tax receipts for financial contributions.

That's the administrative process, but do how these single-issue parties get any attention when most focus is on the traditional main parties?

Marijuana Party Leader Blair Longley says one of his candidates will use performance art and live concerts to colour her campaign. Asked why the party doesn't just support pro-pot candidates in the other parties, he said they can't be trusted.

Legalizing pot, ending animal cruelty issues for niche parties

"While the more mainstream 'legalize marijuana' movements are able and willing to support the bigger parties, personally I regard those bigger parties as being dominated by professional liars and immaculate hypocrites," Longley said.

Rod Taylor has run in four elections as candidate for the Christian Heritage Party of Canada, and says the small parties have a tough time competing against bigger parties with federal subsidies. His team uses lower-cost options to campaign — from social media and website videos to printed brochures and lawn signs.

While the extended 78-day election means stretching out a lean budget, Taylor said it also has the advantage of more time to get the message out.

"Of course we don't have an advertising budget that can compete with the big four taxpayer-funded parties but we believe the longer campaign will help us get to more doors to meet with voters," he said.

For Ric Lim, leader of the Pirate Party of Canada, leveraging podcasts and webcasts and motivated volunteers is the only way to get the message out. A longer campaign doesn't have a dramatic impact since the party is already running a low-budget battle.

Liz White, leader of the Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party of Canada, agrees the extended campaign is a benefit — though she asks for votes knowing she will not be elected.

"We are in a position of being seen as campaigning for the public good — honest brokers so to speak. So I have an opportunity in my campaign to put forward a cogent argument as to why the voters might consider not supporting the Conservative candidate that would result in a different electoral outcome than at the last election," she said. 

The Rhinoceros Party has been part of Canada's political landscape for decades, using comedy to rally its cause. The 2015 platform features plans to nationalize Tim Hortons, privatize the Canadian army, and move the nation's capital to Kapuskasing, Ont.

It sounds ridiculous, but leader Sébastien Corriveau hopes the satirical approach and "touch of weirdness" will engage at least some Canadians in the democratic process.

"There are so many people who don't care about politics. If we can make them engage through humour, then that's okay," he said. "We always run for a majority government, but failing that, some comedy. There are some things worth saying that no one else can say."

Here are the registered parties to date:

Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party of Canada

Bloc Québécois

Canadian Action Party

Christian Heritage Party of Canada

Communist Party of Canada

Conservative Party of Canada

Democratic Advancement Party of Canada

Forces et Démocratie

Green Party of Canada

Liberal Party of Canada

Libertarian Party of Canada

Marijuana Party

Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada

New Democratic Party

Party for Accountability, Competency and Transparency

Pirate Party of Canada

Progressive Canadian Party

Rhinoceros Party

The Bridge Party of Canada

United Party of Canada

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