The Pirate Party of Canada (PPCA) is set to conduct its first leadership elections Aug. 19 in what one candidate describes as a sink or sail moment for the federal party.
Despite its name, the members of the party aren’t ruffians that wear eye patches and sport tangled beards. To the contrary, they are tech-savvy entrepreneurs concerned about digital issues and intellectual property rights reform. Issues they say are not being focused on enough by the traditional mainstream parties in Ottawa.
Nearly 2,000 members joined since the party’s June 2009 inception, and the PPCA was deemed eligible for registration by Elections Canada April 10. It has two approved candidates to run in federal ridings in the next election, both of them in B.C.
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Not bad for a political party that’s just left port. But the first elected leader could determine its chances for long term success, says Mikkel Paulson, a member of the PPCA and leadership candidate.
“If we screw it up at this point… then we’ll never get another chance at this,” he says. “If we end up with leadership that treats this party as a joke, that’s exactly how the public will see us as well. Once they start laughing, they will never stop.”
Paulson works as a freelance Web developer in Edmonton. His other projects include developing a public domain news service with the goal of competing with AP and providing independent and university newspapers the ability to buy affordable wire stories and compete with larger media. His political experience includes four years of working in Alberta’s legislature.
He faces competition from PPCA interim leader Jake Daynes, also one of the approved candidates to run in an election. Daynes is a 3D animation and game design graduate living in Vancouver.
Daynes was selected as temporary leader when the PPCA was establishing itself and needed to put a name on paper for Elections Canada, explains Mike Bleskie, a volunteer public relations representative with the party.
“We are a party in our infancy,” he says. “This is going to be a critical election because we will know who’ll be leading us into becoming a more established voice in Canadian politics… [Next Page]
Bleskie, known in PPCA forums as “Zblewski” is 18-years-old and lives in Sudbury, Ont. He is one of the founding members of the party, and running for one of four Director at Large positions for the PPCA in the upcoming election. Inspired by the success of the Sweden-based Pirate Party, a small group of IT professionals and entrepreneurs clustered together to start a homegrown movement, he says.
“The Pirate Party certainly does want to go towards a more fair business model for not only consumers, but artists and IT professionals,” he says. “We are just starting to gain some momentum.”
The wind may be in its sails now, but the PPCA might find it challenging to capture the attention of many Canadians, according to Michael Geist, an Internet law professor based at the University of Ottawa. Once you get past the attention-getting name, the party has enjoyed success internationally by giving voice to technological issues that are ignored by other politicians. But that might be harder to do in Canada.
“At this stage, the door is still open for the mainstream parties to fill that void and take these issues on,” Geist says. “These digital issues are raised regularly in the House of Commons and before committees, and have generated consultations that receive responses from thousands.”
Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system also means its unlikely a PPCA member could get a seat in Parliament any time soon, he adds. The Green Party has captured over five per cent of the vote in previous federal elections and still walked away empty-handed, for example. The Pirate Party of Sweden was able to claim two seats in the legislature with 5.1 per cent of the popular vote.
Still, the party could influence politics to some degree. “Any time these issues attract broad attention, it has an impact,” Geist says.
Current top issues for the PPCA include patent law reform and changes to copyright reform Bill C-32, according to members. The party considers the patent system to favour larger businesses and patent collection firms that file vague patents and claim rights for long periods, in the hopes they’ll be able to later cash in by slapping another company with a lawsuit.
“The purpose of patent law is to grant temporary monopoly on a product to bring it to market,” Paulson says. “So if I come up with a great new battery, Duracell can’t come along and rip it off.”
Patent law should ensure competition and protect a new entrant while they develop a product, he adds.
PPCA also opposes the digital locks provision of Bill C-32. The clause makes it illegal to circumvent any digital rights management software placed on a digital product like a DVD, save for a few exceptions… [Next Page]
“It’s stopping consumers from making personal copies of digital media,” Bleskie says. “That’s one of the things we like to see, culture unlocked so people can use digital media as they wish.”
Nominations for elected positions at PPCA closed July 28. Few members seem willing to commit time to the top positions. Though five openings for Director at Large could be filled, only three nominations had been seconded, putting those candidates through to the election.
Daynes and Paulson will run for the Leadership position. But a third nominee, Aaron Sears, was shut out of the process when no member would second his nomination. A member of the Canadian Forces serving as a naval communicator in Esquimalt, B.C., Sears has been working in IT for the navy for seven years and holds a diploma in digital art and design.
His nomination for Leader was his first post to the PPCA forums.
“I worry that nothing could hurt the party more than a situation where people feel entitlement, either from time in, skill set, or effort. I am sure all the other members would agree that the party, and the idea, have to become more important than the individuals,” Sears writes in an e-mail response to ITBusiness.ca. “The deciding factor would be on whether an echo chamber evolves, and the message becomes unpalatable to others.”
Sears wants to make clear the Canadian Forces is not affiliated with his leadership bid. He is running as an independent civilian.
The current PPCA board is in constant communication, Bleskie says. There were concerns this newcomer wouldn’t be committed to the leadership position, resulting in no one seconding his nomination.
“When there’s someone that comes in and he hasn’t really shown himself to be able to lead the party, and have a grasp of what we’ve been doing, there’s a problem with that,” he says.
It seems like the PPCA wants a leader that will give the party credibility, rather than mire it in fringe territory.
Someone more like Captain Blackbeard and less like Captain Jack Sparrow, for example.
Brian Jackson is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and check out the IT Business Facebook Page.