The Polarization of BC Politics
In its political context the term 'polarization' conveys an image of two opponents who are far apart on most issues having to do with the role of government, the organization of society, and the operation of the economy. In polarized politics there is no centre, or at least the centre is very weak, and contestants for control of government are backed by supporters who occupy positions close to the extremes of the left/right continuum. According to democratic theorists ( Dahl 1956:97-8) this situation may lead to instability, assuming the groups at the extremes are numerically balanced, since the compromises necessary to achieve majority decisions would be seen by one side or the other as betraying fundamental principles. Assuming alternation in office, each side would want to undo the handiwork of the other once it managed to achieve power. Active partisans in such a setting would have consistent and coherent sets of political beliefs, and view election campaigns as akin to religious crusades. British Columbia's politics are frequently described as polarized. To what extent do they fit this image?
Left-wing politics got an early start in the province. Parties and organizations ranging from groups of mild reformers to bands of militant socialists appeared in British Columbia at the turn of the century in association with the struggle for the rights of workers and the recognition of trade unions ( McCormack 1974). While battles were literally fought and lives were lost in these struggles, it was not until 1933 that the left had sufficient strength to win more than a token presence in the legislature. In that year the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) received one-third of the vote and with seven seats (15%) became the official opposition in the BC legislature.
The CCF was a Canada-wide federation of farmer, labour, and