Progressives and working people in the southern interior of British Columbia are rallying around the campaign of a youth candidate in the May 12 BC election. Zach Crispin, a student and young worker, will challenge the big business agenda of the Campbell Liberals by carrying the red flag in the riding of Kootenay West. He is the first Communist candidate in the area in almost fifty years.
"The three major issues in Kootenay West are education, health care and jobs," Zach says. The Kootenays, like many rural areas, have suffered from years of devastating cutbacks and privatization of public services, first by the New Democrats and greatly accelerated under the Campbell Liberals.
"More than six public schools have been shut down in this riding because of the actions of the Liberal government, which also used undemocratic back-to-work legislation against a B.C. teachers strike," says Zach. "Health care has been constantly threatened by profiteers and P3 privatization. There is only one major hospital in the riding, up to five hours driving distance for some residents. We urgently need a massive increase in public funding for not‑for‑profit community clinics to adequately serve the people."
Zach's candidacy comes at a period of intense attack on Canadian jobs and public control of natural resources. Kootenay West, home to the large Teck Cominco Smelter in Trail as well as a pulp mill and forestry industry, has a proud history of militant working class struggle. He will campaign for a new direction, based on peoples' needs not corporate greed, as well as protecting Canada's sovereignty, and manufacturing and industrial base.
The future for industry in Trail is uncertain. Earlier in 2009, Teck Cominco's stocks were reduced to junk bond status. After a recovery on the market, the company announced over 1,000 layoffs, including 400 miners in south-eastern BC. Unemployment in the region has skyrocketed, up to officially around 8 percent and higher than the Canadian average.
"I have spent much of my life here in Trail, and I love the Kootenays," Zach says. "My family is from here and I met my wife-to-be here at high school." Zach, who is 19 and organizer of the Young Communist League in Trail, works part‑time at a gas station. He is a first‑year student at Castlegar college and an active member of the students' union, which works on youth and student issues such as minimum wage and affordable housing .
Zach's campaign is also advancing bold, new demands for young people, including universal, accessible public childcare, lifting the minimum wage above the poverty line to $16, eliminating the training wage, lowering the voting age to 16, establishing a system of grants not loans, and abolishing tuition fees. He calls for a major increase in public funding to education, and lifting the federal cap on Aboriginal student post-secondary funding.
Many of these policies are in place elsewhere: Newfoundland has frozen tuition fees, Ontario's minimum wage is moving to $10, and Quebec has $7 a day child‑care. While hardly enough (and BC can do better) this exposes the lie that there is no alternative. Socialist Cuba, a much poorer country than Canada, has free education and trains vast numbers of doctors from around the world. Another key issue is peace.
"I spent a year with the Canadian Military Reserve, which allowed me to see the great error in imperialist warfare and the backwards ideology of the Canadian Forces," says Zach. He calls to support the troops by bringing them home now from the racist war in Afghanistan, and has spoken out for solidarity with the Palestinian people.
"Working class families, youth, women, racialized communities, and the poor, will benefit immensely from the election of Communists to the legislature," says the candidate, noting that a vote for the Communists is a sharp break with the current direction and a demand for fundamental change.
"People here need immediate measures to raise living standards and expand our rights, including our right to democratic control of our land, jobs, and economy, putting a stop to the corporate domination of our province and opening the door to fight for a socialist Canada," says Zach. "This is urgent, necessary, and possible."