THE ODDS of Xaanja Ganja Free getting elected in Oak Bay-Gordon Head are slim. Canucks-winning-the-cup slim.
Her name, while unique, is not well known. You have food in your fridge that is older than 4BC, the just-registered party for which she is running in the May 9 provincial election.
That does not mean that the artist/art historian and mother of four has nothing to say. But it does make her — and anyone else not running for the Liberals, New Democrats or Greens — a fringe candidate.
Nobody likes to be labelled that way. “Fringe candidate” is an unfair but accurate phrase encompassing everyone from deep thinkers to satirists, quixotic idealists, one-issue soapboxers and those who spend their nights dancing to a band that no one else can hear.
Fringe does not mean unworthy of a voice — but it does mean you’ll have a hard time getting it heard. It’s the political equivalent of the kids’ table at Christmas dinner.
Only those with a serious chance to win get serious attention during election campaigns. The leader of Your Political Party of B.C. (which actually exists) isn’t going to get the same ink as Christy Clark or John Horgan.
Ditto for the Christian Heritage Party, the Libertarians, the Conservatives, the B.C. Action Party, the Communist Party of B.C., B.C. Refederation, B.C. Citizens First, the Cascadia Party, the Land Air Water party (the LAW) and — for old times’ sake — the Social Credit Party, which once stalked the province like a leisure-suited leviathan but is now down to two candidates.
In the same boat, rowing in a back eddy out of the mainstream, is the Vancouver Island Party, which is absolutely serious in its belief that the Island should be Canada’s 11th province.
Part of the problem for so many fringe parties is that they are just that: serious. Voters wonder how anyone with so little chance of winning can take themselves so seriously. Yet the B.C. Conservatives, fielding candidates in just 10 of the 87 ridings, have been beset by bitter in-fighting. The Communists never could crack a smile (I once watched rival commie candidates — one Maoist, the other Marxist-Leninist — almost come to blows at a peace march). Even the Marijuana Party is relentlessly earnest. (Those Marijuana guys really need to lighten up, maybe have a drink or something…)
The fringe campaigns that get the most attention are subversively, cheerfully quirky. During the Second World War, frequent French presidential hopeful Ferdinand Lop (he once proposed eliminating poverty after 10 p.m.) escaped a Nazi raid by ducking out a window while declaring: “We do not retreat. We advance backward for strategic purposes.”
In 1988, a chimpanzee placed third out of 12 candidates for the mayoralty of Rio de Janeiro. Following the death of its legendary founder Screaming Lord Sutch in 1999, Britain’s Official Monster Raving Loony Party elected as leader a house cat named Mandu who was, alas, run over by a car in 2002, robbing Britain of A) a brilliant statesman, and B) an excellent mouser.
Here in Canada, we used to have the Parti Rhinoceros, whose platform included a promise to breed mosquitoes that would only hatch in January so that “the little buggers will freeze to death.”
There’s more to this than just comic relief. The Rhinos and Loonies offer a funhouse mirror reflection of reality, a reminder to be skeptical of campaign promises. They take the air out of the over-inflated.
The thing is, none of this is a joke to Xaanja Ganja Free. She’s not just an odd name on the ballot. (She adopted her name — she says Xaanja means “a new beginning” — when establishing herself as an artist several years ago; the historically minded might remember that the second premier of B.C. — and the founder of this newspaper — did something similar, changing his name from Bill Smith to Amor De Cosmos.)
She’s campaigning precisely because she does have something to say, beliefs that she thinks others would share if only they heard them: “I’m finally giving voice to people who have been ignored for too long.”
She says she wouldn’t run if she didn’t think she had a hope of winning, but she also believes it’s worth getting her message out even if she doesn’t. “I’m tired of people struggling,” is what she has to say. Tired of out-of-touch politicians saying that things are OK when they’re not.
Tired of so many people living on the fringes.