Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Political Affiliation

The development dinner was on November 5th, the night before the America election. As a Canadian, the US election had been weighing heavily on my mind. Could Romney really win? Was it really as close as the media was saying?

Apparently not.

(Everyone do a happy dance.)

The election was also in the thoughts of an American dinner guest. He asked the table, “When is it appropriate for an NGO to align itself with a political party?”

I was surprised by how thoughtfully everyone considered the question. Not that it’s a trivial problem, but ZA is currently a one party democracy. The ANC is going to win the next election without a doubt. So why does political alignment matter so much in this country?

American two party politics, on the other hand, are highly linked to controversial social standpoints, as well as religious affiliation. No wonder NGOs have to tread carefully in their political association.

Canadian politics, however, are not near as passionate. Or perhaps I should say British Columbia politics aren’t as passionate.

BC is Canada’s most western province. It’s as far away from Ottawa, the national capital, as you can get. Not only are we geographically distanced from our political centre, but socially as well. People rarely consider writing to our MPs or Prime Minister – unless it’s something extremely upsetting like the Northern Gateway Pipeline. Besides complaining about Harper (our Prime Minister), people don’t usually involve themselves in national politics.

We don’t really involve ourselves with provincial politics either. BC-ers tend to keep voting in the incumbent party until they screw up significantly. Then they punish them for years until the new party messes up. When I was a kid, the NDP was kicked out and the Liberals voted in. I’ve heard many of my parents’ friends say that would never vote for the NDP again. Years later, however, the Liberals have done such a horrible job that it looks like the NDP will win the next election.

If I had an issue that I wanted to address, I would most likely to take it to my municipal government. Not only because Gregor (Vancouver’s mayor) is gorgeous, but also because I feel like that’s the level of government that has the most impact on my day-to-day life.

Our relaxed, west coast attitude towards politics means that few organizations feel the need to affiliate themselves with a particular political party. In fact, it would be strange to read an organization’s mandate and see any mention of politics at all.

But I think it would be beneficial for BC-ers to get more involved. We should be more passionate! People disparage any protests as anarchist hippies who don’t understand the issues – no matter what the group is protesting about. Occupy Vancouver was a major failure, even though there are serious concerns that Vancouverites should bring to the attention of all levels of government, such as affordable housing.

Why are some societies more political than others? Is it a cultural thing based on history?

In HIS article “Alternatives to Neoliberal Governmentality in South Africa”, Narsiah uses the example of the Ten Rand Campaign to explain some of the unique aspects of South African politics. The Ten Rand Campaign was a response to relatively high utility bills for inadequate service provision. One community said that each household would only pay R10 for their utilities because that was the most they could afford.

As Narsiah explains, South Africans have a long history of fighting for their rights. As a result, election day is still very emotional for many of this country’s citizens.

Is that the problem with Vancouver? Our history has been too easy and peaceful to turn us into political activists? Lulled by the beauty of our ocean, forests, and mountains, we prefer to put our energy into running the SeaWall or hiking the Grouse Grind?

That’s pretty lame, Vancouver.




Works Cited

Narsiah, S. (2012). “Alternatives to Neoliberal Governmentality in South Africa.” South African Geographical Journal, 89:1, 34-43.


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