Does Organizing Make a Difference? The Campaign to Vote for Water
It’s been a whirlwind of a month for BC politics. The May 9th general provincial election proved to be one for the history books, and a nailbiter to boot. When ballots were counted on election day, the BC Liberal party was nine votes short of forming another majority government in the province. That tally, however, did not include absentee ballots.
So, anxious British Columbians had to wait another two weeks for absentee ballots to be counted and judicial recounts to be done in ridings where margins of victory where tight.
When results were finally announced on May 24th, it was clear that British Columbians voted quite a bit different than they had in years: the Liberal party won 43 seats (one short of the 44 seats needed for a majority), the NDP won 41 seats, and, for the first time ever, the Green Party won more than a single seat in BC. In fact, they won three. And later, as if a minority government for the first time since 1953 wasn’t dramatic enough, the Green Party announced it would support the NDP, effectively forming a coalition government that would replace the Liberal government (the Green’s 3 seats plus the NDP’s 41 seats collectively gives the parties one more vote than the Liberals).
So what happened this election? Why such a change after four elections (16 years) of consecutive majority governments?
Well, some might argue that, much like the 2015 federal election, the results of BC’s 2017 election were informed by concerted, grassroots organizing that strove to make voters more aware of issues that affect them and where parties stand on those issues, and to get those voters out to the polling stations.
There were some big issues that dominated the election discourse, and community organizers and advocates across fields worked hard to make this election one where key concerns were heard by candidates.
The Canadian Freshwater Alliance was one of those groups. Under the banner of the Our Water BC campaign, we teamed up with local community organizations across BC to mobilize constituents to “Vote for Water” in the provincial election. A ‘distributed campaign’, Our Water BC provided an outlet for local water voices to plug into, and collectively ask that protection of our freshwater be made a priority for whoever forms our next government. Along with our campaign partners and supporters, listed below, we co-organized and co-hosted five water events in communities throughout BC. Hundreds of constituents attended the events.
The Freshwater Alliance, as a project of Tides Canada, is a charitable, and hence non-partisan initiative. We did not tell constituents who to vote for, but rather presented them with the different parties’ platforms on freshwater issues, and encouraged voters to chose what party (or candidate) they thought most had the interest of freshwater in BC at heart.
Although it’s impossible to know exactly the extent to which Our Water BC’s collective efforts affected the outcomes of the election, we certainly noticed differences in voting outcomes between 2013 and 2017 in ridings where we held events. In 4 of those 6 ridings, election outcomes flipped from one party to another, and in another riding (Coquitlam-Maillardville) vote margins shifted considerably from the previous election. We could speculate that perhaps water defenders were weary of the status quo, and voted accordingly.
In Courtenay-Comox, water concerns are near the surface, as residents of Comox are under frequent boil water advisories. We noticed a particular interest in water events here, with over 450 people attending two water events leading up to the election. What’s more, in the run up the election, local groups and residents took it upon themselves to write op-eds to the papers. Water was definitely on the agenda, and Our Water BC provided a platform to channel water concerns into community engagement.
Of course, Freshwater Alliance and the Our Water BC campaign partners were not alone in our organizing. A plethora of environmental and other community organizations worked tirelessly to get voters out to the polls. In days leading up to the election, Freshwater Alliance worked with other organizations to phone tens of thousands of voters across the province to remind them to get out and vote. In our calls, we asked them specifically to vote for water. And vote they did.
The election is just the beginning, and we look forward to working with BC’s new government to ensure water is protected for people and the environment.
Our Water BC campaign partners: