The Pirates are the kind of party our old guard could take pointers from: new image, in-touch and bluntly honest.
By Chris Erl
Published August 31, 2009
From the balcony, the Returning Officer announces in a loud voice:
Allan Jones (Sensible Party) - 9,112
Kevin Philips-Bong (Slightly Silly) - Naught
Tarquin Fim-Tim-Lim-Bim-Win-Bim-Lim-Busstop-FitangFitang-Olé-BiscuitBarrel (Silly Party) - 12,441
-- Monty Python's 'Election Night Special' Sketch
This past June, elections for Members of the European Parliament were held. If you didn't know until now, it's completely understandable; when we're exerting significant energy in scrutinizing/ignoring our own three levels of government, the last thing we need is another system to follow/disregard.
Yet, in this massive election, where representatives were sent to Brussels to create pan-European laws and regulations, a new force rose to prominence in Sweden that may pique your interest.
Currently the third largest party in the social democratic paradise of Sweden, the Pirate Party has sailed across Europe and is currently well on its way to becoming a registered political party on our own shores. Arrgggh, indeed.I was recently given the opportunity to look through the Pirate Party's Declaration of Principles (Version 3.2). Accustomed to the brutally bureaucratic and exuberantly extensive, albeit viciously vague party manifestos I've leafed through in the past, the very readable five pages of simply-stated and straightforward policies the Pirates assembled was refreshing. It's not hard to understand their appeal to youth and the traditionally disenfranchised, yet the nature of their goals raises questions about their involvement in the Canadian system.
The Pirates have stated that they are only interested in three core issues: protecting citizen's rights, freeing our culture from the grips of unfair copyright laws and, ultimately, enacting massive reforms to the existing copyright and patent system.
All other issues, important as they may be, are for the other parties to concern themselves with. If and when they insert themselves into a coalition government, their membership will tow the line of the dominant member party.
This makes them incredibly versatile, especially since the party is nominally 'un-aligned' when it comes to the traditional political spectrum. Whereas their beliefs on copyright are relentlessly leftwing, the Canadian chapter has recently called for the abolition of the CRTC, a policy many grassroots Conservatives have been demanding for years.
Regardless, it's their unique and progressive views on the nature of the internet that makes them so unique. The name itself may be laughable to those who exclusively know pirates as swashbuckling ocean bound criminals of the late 17th and early 18th century, but the loosely defined term for the action engaged in when downloading copyrighted music, files or movies is called "Piracy".
On the issue of privacy, the party believes all people should have the same privacy rights online as they do in the tangible world. Just as mail cannot be opened by a third party, except in extraordinary situations, they would have the same laws apply to email.
Any surveillance of instant messaging conversations, text messages, emails, or any other form of online communication of a person-to-person nature (as opposed to posting in public like on RTH's comments section) would require a court order, just as phone-tapping or physical surveillance does.
Their views on copyright are obvious. The Pirate Party calls for an end to the illegality of simple file sharing for non-profit uses. When it comes to commercial copyright, the retention time would be lowered to five years after creation and all non-commercial sharing sites would be encouraged to help stimulate culture.
Poetically, they call for this to happen quickly, "...before time withers away the celluloid of the old movie reels." (Page 3, under 'Free Our Culture')
Few words are reserved for patents, as the Pirates chose to simply state they must be slowly abolished and private monopolies must be combated due to their unequivocally relentless drive for profit over humanity.
And the kids are eating this stuff up! Today's youth are growing increasingly apathetic and feeling helplessly disconnected from the affairs of the world. So when a party came along that has a stated goal of not stating any goals, save ones that deal with the internet, those who inhabit my age bracket went wild.
The Pirates currently have the highest youth membership in Sweden and have taken scores of other European youth into their fold. In the June Elections, an 18 year old student was on the party list for the Pirates, a climax of sorts in the youthful, enthusiastic fervor over the party that speaks to their technologically oriented lives.
Of course, with every modern youth-dominated technological movement, the parents have to get involved. Except, unlike Facebook, now that more mature people are getting involved, the movement is gaining further legitimacy instead of simply becoming unpopular.
The general public, fed up with old school politics that has made government lethargic with inaction, has flocked to the Pirates. Membership numbers from Sweden on 22 August 2008 stood at about 5,963. Exactly one year later, the party had a membership of 50,107.
They are the kind of party our old guard could take pointers from: new image, in-touch and bluntly honest. For example, in their concluding statements, they declared:
The Pirate Party does not strive to be part of an administration. Our goal is to use a tie breaker position in parliament as leverage, and support an administration that drives the issues in our platform in a satisfactory manner. (Page 5, under 'Closing Words')
A perfectly satisfactory goal, if I do say so myself. In Canada, we have parties that have a similar mindset, though this is where a major question arises.
Swedish elections are a complicated affair, with a series of mathematical equations and double counts to determine the outcome of a poll. The central pillar of their democracy is their unwavering faith in proportional representation, so, when a party receives 4+ percent of the vote, they are guaranteed a seat in the Rikstag.
Governments are formed through coalitions made up of parties of a similar mindset because proportional representation rarely awards any party a majority and because, unlike in Canada, they have set election days that they actually observe.
The current government is, by Swedish standards, rather conservative, but includes four parties, each with a similar bend who will work together until the next election in 2010.
In Canada, the situation is completely different, thanks to our adherence to the first-past-the-post system. Here, a party can easily attain 4, 14 or 24 percent of the vote and still be shut out of Parliament, or, can take power without winning the popular vote (i.e. Clark's PC's in 1979).
The adverse political situation here may hamper the efforts of the Pirates. Imagine having a Pirate, Green, New Democratic, Canadian Action, Marxist-Leninist, Communist and Animal Alliance Environment Voter's Party Candidate stand for election in a riding home to a university and large proportion of students (the Pirate's strongest base). Splitting the progressive vote seven ways would almost completely ensure a Conservative or Liberal victory.
The Pirates could take a page from the playbook of Québec Solidaire, la belle provance's new leftwing opposition, and focus all their efforts on a few winnable ridings to ensure success, as opposed to fighting a broad campaign over the entire county. Yet without significant advances in the area of electoral reform, the Pirates' chances in Canada may be slimmer than in more hospitable waters.
Their vision for the future is progressive and daring, their enthusiasm is driven by youth and unity and their message is loud, clear, simple. Their pitfall stands ominously in the form of our electoral system. Canada's already deeply fractured left may see their arrival on the scene as simply another nail in the coffin of progressive politics here.
Regardless of the challenges, the Pirates seem to be an unstoppable force full of energy and optimism. That is something our parties lack and desperately need to get back, lest they cede power to those who know the value in idealism, in progress and in hope.
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