National Anti-Poverty Organization British Columbia board member W. Robert Arnold is looking at "organizing poor people and their allies into a non-partisan voting block." In a vision document distributed to fellow travelers, Mr. Arnold estimates there are 750,000 poor people in British Columbia who are eligible to vote. If those people voted as a block, they could "dictate which candidate won in almost any election in the province." And, he writes, if legislators "do not do what we want them to in the first 18 months of their mandate, we can add our votes to those who voted for the losing candidate and effectively use recall to bring down the government if we want to, or just to illustrate our power so that the remainder of the MLA's will begin to obey us." The block, which would have a central office in Victoria and a chapter in each constituency, would focus on the "eradication of poverty" - counterbalancing the power of the "rich and their corporations" in what Mr. Arnold describes as an era ruled by special interest groups. The following is a complete copy of that document.
Vision Piece About Anti-Poverty Electors
As many of you will know there has been some discussion of the idea of organizing poor people and their allies into a non-partisan voting block. This is an idea that I have been hatching for about eight years. I am talking here about an organization for B.C., but it could be done in all the provinces and territories in Canada and, in the future, at the Federal level as well. The numbers I use for this piece are BC numbers, but I am sure the numbers for other places are very similar.
A few years ago I started up a group called Voters for Economic and Social Justice, which continued for three or four years before I got busy with other things and other people got busy as well. The outcome of all this busy-ness was that the group ceased to meet. Now, of course, it is no longer registered with the Registrar of Companies as a non-profit society.
I think part of the problem was the name. It was descriptive; but too long.
At this time I am considering starting up a new group to accomplish the same ends as the VESJ. At this point I am calling the new group the Anti-Poverty Electors. As part of that process I want to share with you my vision for this group and the reasoning behind my belief that it will be a powerful group and will, in the end, eradicate poverty.
Let me just mention that the eradication of poverty is the prime purpose of this group; but not the only purpose that will be fulfilled by its efforts. There will be a lessening of crime, a decrease in abuse of drugs, a decrease in family violence and great advances in environmental protection.
A few years ago I looked at the electoral numbers for B.C. I discovered some interesting things. For instance, fewer than 65% of eligible voters have voted in the last four elections. Fewer than 75% of the registered voters have voted in the past four elections. There is an estimated 3 million and 20 thousand eligible voters in BC. I believe there are some five million people in BC, 20 percent of whom are poor. That means there are one million poor people in BC. If one-quarter of those are children, who cannot vote, 7 hundred and 50 thousand are eligible voters. That is a very large group of voters. It could, if it voted as a block, dictate which candidate won in almost any election in the province.
I believe West Point Gray to be the only constituency where there are not enough poor people to carry the election. Unfortunately, that is Campbell's riding. In the most recent election nearly 60 percent of the eligible voters voted. That means there were about two million votes cast in the election. The election was a close one with 87 percent of the votes going to the two largest parties. Historically, the poor have not voted in great numbers. Four argument's sake let us say that 30 percent of the eligible poor people voted in this election. That would mean that we have half a million new votes to add to the mix in the next election.
I am no mathematician, so I am winging it here. I did have the numbers crunched by a mathematician friend of mine some five elections ago and the story was essentially the same.
About 1.7 million people voted in this election, which is 60.76 percent of the registered voters. The two major parties shared 87 percent of the popular vote, with the winners taking 46 percent. That means they won the election with 46 percent of the 56 percent of eligible voters who voted. That sounds to me like they got about a quarter of the eligible voters to vote for them. That would be about 7 hundred and 50 thousand votes. I am estimating that the Anti-Poverty Electors would consist of at least 7 hundred and 50 thousand voters. We could add our votes to either of the major parties and that party would win in 78 of 79 constituencies in this province.
I am hoping that as part of the discussion about the Anti-Poverty Electors these numbers will be challenged and confirmed or disputed by people who know more about such things than I do. I think the idea is workable.
Enough of the dry numbers game! I would like to proceed now to the philosophy behind this whole idea.
I believe we are now living in an era of rule by special interest group. The special interest group that is now in power is the rich and their corporations. They buy the government they want by contributing to the campaign of the party they want to win. When that party wins the election and forms the government it will, naturally, create legislation that helps the rich and their corporations. We have certainly seen this in the last four years in B.C. Unfortunately, we may see more of it in the next four years.
For many years I worked for and voted for the New Democrats here in B.C. Until I witnessed how they governed this province I was convinced that the New Democrats were the answer. However, when I saw what they did to poor people in this province I quit the party in disgust. It was then that I realized that the political party does not matter. No matter who governs they become Liberals. That is what big business wants them to be and they are addicted to the money they get from big business and/or their counterparts, big unions.
This line of thought has led me to two conclusions that I have applied to the Anti-Poverty Electors. The first is that we must be non-partisan. We must take a candidate, who can win in any given constituency and work for and vote for that candidate. It does not matter which party that candidate belongs to for our purposes. We will essentially own all of the MLA's in the Legislature in any event, and we will be able to tell all of them what we want them to do. If they do not do what we want them to in the first 18 months of their mandate, we can add our votes to those who voted for the losing candidate and effectively use recall to bring down the government if we want to, or just to illustrate our power so that the remainder of the MLA's will begin to obey us. After a few by-elections they will get the message.
The second conclusion is that the Anti-Poverty Electors must never become a political party. If we did become a political party, we would need campaign funds and there lies the path to corruption. I believe that we will wield more power as a voting block than we would as a political party. We must guard against individuals and subgroups within our organization, who may want to get into the political game and run for office. Such people would damage our solidarity, which is so necessary to our success. If anyone wants to get involved in the political game as it is played by the parties, they must not be a member of the Anti-Poverty Electors. Those people would just be hunting for cushy jobs anyway.
This idea works under our present electoral system. I don't know as yet what the effect would be if the system were changed to the STV or some other system. I am assuming that we have such a large chunk of votes that we could still effectively influence the election and use our power to get the government to do what we want it to do. I am hoping that some of the more mathematically minded of you might be able to inform me of the usefulness of this idea under different electoral systems.
In any event, we would have the power to get rid of any electoral method that did not favour our power base.
Now I would like to talk about a structure of the Anti-Poverty Electors that I have been working on for some time. I would like to see a central office created in Victoria, because it is after all the capital of the province and from here we can have easy access to the Legislature and MLA's. The central office would keep track of membership and be a clearinghouse for information and the main point of communications with the government, the media and the public at large.
In every constituency there would be a Chapter of Anti-Poverty Electors, run by its own board and executive. It would send a percentage of the membership dues to run the Central Office, but it would keep the lion's share to use in growing its membership and keeping its members informed about the progress of the group.
The Anti-Poverty Electors would have and maintain a Website with information and news of interest to the membership. This would be accessible to people from other parts of Canada and, indeed the world, who are interested in this plan. It is my hope that they would start up similar organizations in every Province and Territory in Canada.
At election time each Chapter would each pick a candidate to back and work for and vote for to get them elected. The Chapter should keep in mind that it does not matter what party the candidate represents, so they can either pick the person they like the most or flip a coin. As long as it is a candidate from either of the two major parties, they will be successful in getting them elected.
I can hear the people from the smaller parties yelling now. My answer to them is to get involved in the Anti-Poverty Electors and make sure our program supports your interests. You don't need a Green Party, for instance, if you can make the government properly take care of the environment, which I sincerely hope the Anti-Poverty Electors will do.
People and groups with concerns and points of view can bring them to the Central Office and the discussion of the issue will be shared with the Chapters and a position will be reached, which will become the policy of the organization.
Each Chapter will keep its own membership list and will share it with the Central Office. In this way, we can advise the government of the exact number of votes we have in each constituency, so they will see we have the clout to demand action on our issues.
We can draft changes to existing legislation and draft new legislation and have it brought to the floor of the house by anyone we please. Then, anyone who wants to keep their job will vote for it.
Democracy is Rule by the People. That is what we are going to create.
When we can afford it we will hold a meeting of Chapter Presidents, who will form the Board of the BC Anti-Poverty Electors. At that meeting an executive will be elected to replace the Interim Executive, who will start the organization. There will be no remuneration for being on the Boards of the Chapters or of the BC Board. When we can afford it we will hire an Executive Director and staff for the Office in Victoria. Chapter Offices, will be staffed by volunteers and run by the Chapter Executive with the President being the CEO.
Sample letter to MLA.
Mr. /Ms. Member of the Legislature, we have X number of votes in your Constituency and if you want to retain your seat you will vote "Yes" on the such and such bill. You will be representing your constituency properly if you do this. If you don't, you will soon represent no one.
The rich and their corporations will no longer rule. They may have the money; but we have the votes.
The people will rule! Think of the possibilities!!
Well, I have written enough for now. I hope to get your comments and concerns soon. I will try to answer them as quickly as possible.
W. Robert Arnold