MAY 20, 1999
BY NATE HENDLEY
Frank de Jong, part-time Toronto music teacher, environmental activist and head of the Green Party of Ontario, is showing off his campaign vehicle. "This is my campaign bus," he laughs, as he mounts a touring bike and starts riding tight circles in front of Metro Hall.
De Jong paid $1,500 for the bike, which he used to cycle from Toronto to Guelph to kick-start the Greens' election campaign.
"The biking was fabulous," he says. "I had a tail wind and it took four hours to get to Guelph. Usually, you have a northwest wind but Gaia was on my side."
Candidates for office don't usually praise earth goddesses in front of the media, but then de Jong isn't really in the campaign to win.
"We don't deserve credibility until we have a full slate," he explains. At present the Greens are running 55 candidates in Ontario's 103 ridings and hope to "look at winnable ridings in a decade."
Giueseppe Gori, head of the right-wing Family Coalition Party, has a more optimistic view, saying his organization has a shot at taking a seat on June 3.
The Family Coalition crew, the biggest minor party in the province, got 110,000 votes in 1990 --- enough to help tip the balance to Bob Rae and the New Democrats, according to Ryerson Political Science prof. Greg Inwood.
In 1995, the socially conservative FCP saw its vote total drop to 61,000 --- a huge loss, but still enough to make them the fourth biggest party in the province. In this year's election, the party has 29 confirmed candidates, hopes to run 45 and thinks it might actually elect someone.
Gori, who runs a computer consulting business when not leading the FCP, says his party could win in York Centre. The major parties are split in that riding and the FCP are running former MPP Michael Spedsieri. Gori insists that if the party attracts enough "family people, pro-life people and religious people, not just Christians," the FCP could find itself sharing debate time at Queen's Park with the Tories, the NDP and the Liberals.
That's unlikely, although the fact the FCP anticipate a close race in at least one riding puts them way ahead of other minor parties, like the Family Coalition's mirror opposite, the Communist Party of Ontario.
"We have a platform that most closely matches what voting Ontarians are looking for and that none of the big three parties are offering," says Don Valley East Communist Party candidate Elizabeth Rowley.
Despite Rowley's optimism, the Communist Party Canada, which was founded in 1921 --- ancient by minor party standards --- got 1,000 votes in the last provincial election and will only run four candidates this time. Not much heat from a crew that used to rule half the world.
The pro-meditation Natural Law Party of Ontario hopes to run "a full slate" across the province, says party leader Ron Parker, but is "still doing candidate recruitment."
Parker's plans are fairly ambitious considering the NLP got 18,000 votes in '95, a year in which 4.1 million Ontarians cast ballots.
As small as it was, Natural Law's tally was more than four times better than that of the Freedom Party of Ontario. The libertarian FP are running 14 candidates for this election and their party president, Robert Metz, expect they'll win maybe 1 per cent of the vote.
"When we set the party up in 1984, we expected it to take 20 years to even be a blip on the election map," Metz says.
Hunkering down for the long run is comforting, but why bother fielding candidates at all if you know you're going get creamed? Wouldn't it be more rewarding to latch onto one of the mainstream parties and influence policy from within?
Perhaps, but that's not an option any minor party leader will consider. One common factor on the electoral margins is an intense hatred of the status quo.
"All three parties are the same --- we want something different," snaps Metz. His view is echoed by Gori, who says, "The three major parties are the same on conservative social issues and family issues."
The Greens have their own apocalyptic reasons for running: "We feel all other parties continue to advocate the liquidation of nature," says de Jong.
In many ways, working on fringe territory offers parties a degree of freedom. When you're not worried about winning, it's easier to stay true to your principles. "We can say whatever we want," says de Jong. "We don't have to manipulate our comments to get votes."
Indeed, it's doubtful premier Mike Harris or Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty would ever talk about "the science of consciousness" on the campaign trail, as the Natural Law party does. Or discuss how "the economic system is a sub-system of the eco-system" as de Jong is apt to do.
While the Communists view the New Democrats as tools of big business, the FCP and FP are so right-wing they think the Tories are dangerously soft on policy.
Gori accuses the PCs of deliberately downplaying social issues such as abortion, while Metz blasts the PCs for being phony fiscal conservatives "who talk freedom and practice socialism."
The FCP would end OHIP coverage of abortion while the FP would privatize health care. The Freedom Party would also drastically pare taxes, eliminate human rights tribunals, balance the budget and ... legalize drugs.
"Marijuana," quips Metz, "should have the same legal status as asparagus."
The Greens also support decriminalization, while Rowley isn't sure what the Communist Party's line on pot is. "It's not at the top of our agenda," admits the former East York school trustee.
The CP would scrap the provincial sales tax, eliminate income tax for people making under $40,000 a year and slap rich people and corporations with "wealth taxes". The Greens have similarly grandiose tax plans; they'd "take taxes off people and put them onto resources," explains de Jong. "We would punish gray corporations and reward green."
Neither the Greens, the Communists nor the Freedom Party has much time for welfare or workfare, the province's attempt to link social assistance to labor. The Commies consider workfare "slave labor", says Rowley, the FP's Metz calls it "job creation in a phony form" and the Greens would eliminate welfare and replace it with a guaranteed annual income for poor people.
De Jong --- like other party leaders --- hates Mike Harris and accuses the premier of being "a big fan of Social Darwinism." When talking economic policy, however, de Jong is irked that none of the parties recognizes the fact that "all jobs depend on nature."
Or good vibes, as the Natural Law Party would have it. An international organization, one of whose founders was the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an Indian guru that the Beatles temporarily took up with, the NLP offers a unique brand of minor party policies.
"Government's first responsibility is to improve the collective consciousness," says Parker. To this end, the NLP would set up a non-partisan committee to run the province while a team of experts doing transcendental meditation spreads positive vibrations.
Despite the utopic flavor of his party, Parker is frank about the NLP's chances. "We'd be totally content with getting few votes as long as our ideas were stolen," he says.
This points to an important function of minor parties --- they often serve as idea factories for the mainstream.
"We were the first party in Canada to advocate pay equity, nationally socialized medicine and national day care," says the CP's Rowley.
Metz says the Freedom Party floated the idea of a taxpayers' bill of rights four years ago, a gimmick the PCs picked up for this campaign. The FP has also been vocal in pointing out how the Tories, far from being fiscal tightwads, managed to jack up Ontario's debt to $24 billion --- an issue the Liberals are now highlighting.
Even when their policies aren't adopted, minor parties can act as election "spoilers", says Inwood.
"The best example of that in Ontario would be the 1990 election," he explains. "Minor parties captured almost six per cent of the vote. Some say they split the vote for the NDP to win."
An ironic victory, considering that "for many years, the New Democrats were considered a minor party," says Inwood. While the Ontario NDP didn't win until this decade, their policies "were often stolen by other parties" --- the ultimate compliment when your party has zero hope of forming the government.
last updated on April 28, 2002