Tyson Strandlund was the Communist Party of BC candidate in the May 9 British Columbia election, in the riding of Esquimalt-Metchosin, just west of Victoria on Vancouver Island. Tyson is also the organizer of the Young Communist League – Victoria club, a student at University of Victoria, and a musician. He has organised students around the demand for free universal post-secondary education, such as during last November’s pan-Canadian student rallies. Tyson is Métis, and a fierce advocate of decolonisation and the rights of Indigenous peoples. During the campaign, Rebel Youth (rebelyouth-magazine.blogspot.ca/) asked Tyson some questions about this election.
What’s at stake in this election for the people of BC?
British Columbians are faced with increasingly heavy economic burdens while multinational corporations make off with ever greater profits in stolen resources. Any semblance of democracy has been completely undermined by corporate donations and a rigged electoral system.
The allegedly “progressive” parties have made a number of ambiguous and inconsistent statements, and promised minor concessions to small sections of the working class while carefully avoiding any criticism of capitalism. An NDP victory would over the next four years at best constitute a tree saved amidst another burned down forest as they oversee a continued trend in capitalist decline and environmental destruction, and at worst, a betrayal of the working class and student activists whose revolutionary instincts they’ve co-opted for their political gains. Rather than a break from the status quo, a vote for any of the capitalist parties would represent not a step forwards, but to the side. British Columbians must decide if they will let first-past-the-post and false progressive rhetoric push them into lending legitimacy to the parliamentary charade, or if they will push for the new direction our society so desperately needs.
What has been the record of the BC Liberals when it comes to the rights of young people in BC?
The economic scene in BC is not so rosy as the Liberals would have British Columbians believe, and this is particularly true for youth. Young adults with full-time jobs are earning $1,200 less per year pre-tax than before the premier took office. Personal debt has skyrocketed, and costs of everything from housing to education and even transit fares have risen far faster than stagnant wages can keep up with. Public schools are desperately underfunded, requiring an additional $500 million dollars (or approximately $1000 per student) just to reach the Canadian average, and yet the Liberals have continued provincial support for religious and private schools, such as the one attended by the Premier’s son.
What is the current government’s relationship with Indigenous peoples like in BC? Is this an issue in the election?
The BC Liberals are the only major party not to have committed to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – not that I think the other parties will show any more commitment should they take power, but at least they’ve said they will even if it is a hollow lie. The government has repeatedly displayed their contempt for indigenous peoples and unsurprisingly sides with corporations that would continue the colonial legacy of plunder and exploitation, such as with the Northern Gateway Pipeline, Kinder Morgan expansion, Site C dam, and other resource extraction projects on unceded traditional territories. The opposition has feigned an unconvincing sympathy for indigenous peoples which they will maintain as long as is useful. Considering that Pacific Northwest LNG and other undisclosed “resource industry leaders” are NDP donors, I am not so naive to put my faith in the orange Liberals.
What has been the response to your campaign so far? What’s it like to be a red on the campaign trail?
Having ran in the 2015 federal election, many people remember me from our previous campaign… The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and people are genuinely interested with the ideas of the Communist Party. Young people especially are drawn to our anti-capitalist message, although increasingly it finds resonance even with those who lived through McCarthyism and the Red Scare. Even those who disagree with our positions have expressed very positive feelings witnessing youth involvement. I am far from the best speaker, the most well versed, so if I am received so well I can only imagine what other comrades might achieve in this regard. As such I must urge all members of the YCL to participate in federal, provincial, and municipal elections that we may demonstrate that the Communist Party is a party of youth.
What do you hope to accomplish with your campaign? Why vote Communist?
We cannot form a majority government, and if we could, it would still fall short of what is necessary. That said, there are several things which still may be achieved by this campaign. First, and most importantly, we are building a broader movement than simply striving towards a seat in the legislature. Every debate opens people’s minds and accustoms their ears towards words that will never be uttered by the bourgeois politicians – most importantly being capitalism, a word we can harbour some very negative feelings for with very simple associations that working class people respond to. In this sense, our work is in laying foundations that we can draw on in future. Indeed, we are able to speak to so many people during election time that this often is one of our best periods for meeting people interested in working with the YCL or the Party, and every such opportunity must be leapt on.
Every vote for our party sends a clear message that fundamental change is necessary. Whether we get a seat or not, a substantially larger vote for the Communist Party would force the other parties to consider adopting more progressive platforms to avoid being outflanked. Our parliamentary system wasn’t made to allow candidates like myself to win, nor was it made to allow for fundamental change however, that’s not to say it’s impossible. If we did get a seat, this would surely represent both a poison dart in the colonial state, and a new stage in the revolutionary work of our organisation. I’d use this seat not as a politician, but as yet another platform from which to call for building the fightback against corporate power and for workers’ power.