THE BLOG

Stuart Parker: BC's Eloquent Progressive Electoral Voice

04/19/2013 05:30 EDT | Updated 06/19/2013 05:12 EDT

As long as BC elections are concerned, the name Stuart Parker is almost a brand name. By the time Stuart Parker turned 21, he was a veteran of BC politics having served as the head of the Young Greens for four years as well as with the municipal party, COPE. He was also became a noted national environmental voice as Vancouver Magazine named him as BC's Top 10 Environmentalist along with David Suzuki. He then became BC Greens leader becoming the youngest (21) and the first black leader of a political party in Canada in 1993. Under his leadership- the party saw real growth as it fielded an almost full slate of candidates in the 1996 provincial elections for the first time ever becoming a mainstream option for British Columbians.

The now 41-year-old, Parker has had an interesting journey ever since. The now activist professor reflects on his years as a Green party leader, his successes, why he left the party, the causes he still cares about and his hopes BC Elections 2013.

What is your role in BC Elections 2013?

My role in the 2014 elections is promoting reforms to our voting and election finance systems as a director of FVC and FVBC. I'll be voting NDP but I'm more issue- than party-focused this campaign.

I would really like to see some form of proportional representation enacted provincially or federally in the next few years. I believe that changing the rules of the system will have a bigger impact on improving our public policy than people can even imagine today.

What are you up to these days?

Many things, the most important of which is romantically reuniting with Amy Salmon, a brilliant health researcher, global leader in FASD prevention and professor at both UBC and UVic, all while running a high-stress downtown east-side drop-in center for mom's with substance issues. Amy served as the deputy leader of the BC Green Party from 1996-98 and I'm thrilled to be back with her in all kinds of ways.

Last year, I brought together a group of activists and academics to create Los Altos Institute, a small leftist think tank that is trying to be the bizarro-Fraser Institute from a different perspective. We're focusing on two things that distinguish Fraser and groups of its ilk from left groups like the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives: non-academic capacity-building and long-term project to dramatically shift public discourse. Right now, our first journal is going to press; we're hosting our second public salon; we're working with four fellows, providing mentoring and help with research method and theory to non-academics seeking to intervene in major public debates.

I am entering my eighteenth year as a voting reform activist, serving as a director of Fair Voting BC and Fair Vote Canada, helping to take advantage of the unanticipated possibilities for proportional representation at the national level in and after 2015. With Joyce Murray and Stephane Dion pulling the Liberals onside and the NDP reaffirming its commitment to PR, we are closer than ever to reform at the national level. Right now, I'm focusing on re-involving conservatives in our multi-partisan movement, working with movement founders like Troy Lanigan, head of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation.

You have also been active with BC's COPE (The Coalition of Progressive Elector) - Vancouver's noted municipal political party.

Since I got back to Vancouver from my postdoctoral work in Utah and Missouri last May, I have become an active member of COPE, Vancouver's second-oldest civic party. It's actually the first party I worked for (I logged over 100 volunteer hours for them in the 1986 Rankin for Mayor campaign). Since negotiating the coalition between COPE, the Green Party and the Vancouver and District Labour Council in 1999, I've been a COPE supporter and grown to especially admire former city Councillor Tim Louis, Vancouver's most principled and consistent voice for socialism.

Like Tim, I'd become very worried about the dramatic rightward drift of COPE's coalition partner of the past decade, Vision Vancouver. It was a real honour to work with him and inspiring young activists from the Renters Union like Tristan Markle and Kim Hearty over the past year to organize a broad coalition of people concerned about Vision's escalating attacks on seniors, renters, low-income people and the city's music and arts scenes. This culminated in COPE voting to emancipate itself from an eight-year abusive relationship with Vision at their annual convention this month. For the first time since 1999, I sit on the board of a political party; it's a bit daunting to be back on the political front lines but I'm working with great people.

What is your take on BC Elections 2014?

Adrian Dix has chosen to model the BC NDP on the prairie success stories in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. That means he is running a campaign that is emphasizing fiscal probity and expectation management. It's an intelligent if totally uninspiring campaign. I'll certainly be voting for him and his crew - and I've had my expectations managed so thoroughly, I'm not anticipating any significant changes once the NDP is back in office.

I hope I'm wrong about that because the business community will hate Dix and the NDP just as much whatever they do and will spend millions to destroy them anyway, even if it involves tanking the BC economy and wrecking their own profits. It would sure be nice if the NDP left some sort of legacy rather than thinking we'll turn into Manitobans if they tiptoe quietly enough.

As for the BC Liberals, all you really need to know is their lawn sign masthead "Today's BC Liberals." The last time a party was "today's" party in BC was 2001's "Ujjal Dosanjh and today's New Democrats."

Reflect on your time as leader of the BC Greens

The longer I am away from the Greens, the more I value the institutions and culture that help to comprise a political party. The problem with the Greens, as a late-/post-Cold War political movement, is that it really is just a brand name and a highly volatile, temporary collection of people who stick around for an average of 18 months.

This means that there is little institutional memory and no stability when it comes to practices and policies. Charismatic individuals and outside groups can periodically do good things with the Green brand but the parties are too much creatures of the consumer capitalist world to really develop as institutions with long-term traditions and loyalties. Low-information Green Party voters are far more likely to stick with the party than people who actually pay attention to the constantly shifting set of policies and practices.

During my time in the Greens, I tried to change that, to fashion a culture and set of practices that would make people want to stick around. I failed. All I was the first in a series of autocrats who seize control, break with the past and restructure the party without reference to what has gone before.

You must be impressed Elizabeth May and the federal Greens.

I'm impressed with what Elizabeth May has done with the brand and how she has built a real organization of substance in her riding but the national organization remains a volatile, rapid-turnover group that would be completely amorphous without its leader.

I think that without proportional representation, better public financing and possibly a primary system, Green politics won't really be a thing in which most Canadians can productively involve themselves. I wish that were not the case.