IN the last federal election, health physicist Ric Lim found himself seated amid two of Manitoba's political lions. He was the underdog trying to get noticed by voters at a packed debate in Steinbach.
Lim was then a rookie candidate in Provencher, making a passionate plea for open government and copyright reform, when most people were there to hear then-public safety minister Vic Toews duke it out with former NDP cabinet minister Al Mackling.
Now Lim is the national leader of the Pirate Party, still trying to get noticed, still trying to convince voters his party, despite its cartoonish name, serves a serious purpose.
"There are issues that are not being addressed by the major parties," said Lim. That includes free access to government data that helps combat corruption, an end to politically motivated boutique tax credits and the creation of a basic income guarantee like the one briefly pioneered in Dauphin in the 1970s.
The Pirate Party fielded 10 candidates across Canada in the last election and hopes to have as many this time, including one yet to be confirmed in Winnipeg North.
Often, serious-minded fringe candidates get lumped in with the cheeky ones, including the satirical Rhinoceros party, which unveiled its 1,000-year plan for Canada outside a Montreal Tim Hortons earlier this week.
The party promised to move Canada's capital from Ottawa to Kapuskasing, Ont., because it's in the middle of the country. They also pledged to privatize the Canadian Army and nationalize all Tim Hortons.
"We're also promising a monthly orgasm. So that's why you have to vote for the Rhinoceros party — for happiness," party leader Sebastien "CoRhino" Corriveau told reporters.
The Rhinos haven't fielded any candidates in Manitoba in recent elections, but Winnipeg's best-known Rhino candidate was children's entertainer Al Simmons, who ran in Winnipeg-St. James in 1980. He earned 236 votes.
In Manitoba, the last general election saw nine candidates on the outskirts of the mainstream, including two Communists and two Christian Heritage candidates. Collectively, they earned about 2,500 votes.
But, non-mainstream candidates are often mainstays of riding debates, even when Conservative candidates eschew them. And, said Christian Heritage Party candidate Jerome Dondo, they often give voice to issues that are unable to find a home in mainstream parties and their strong-leader models.
"I love this country, and I'm concerned with the direction the major political parties are heading," said Dondo, a chartered accountant.
Most would assume Dondo's concerns include abortion, which is one of his party's core campaign issues. But it's far from the first Dondo mentions, highlighting instead the Conservative government's record of deficits, its reluctance to acknowledge a recession is likely afoot and a health-care system still plagued by long wait times.
Dondo is also concerned about physician-assisted suicide, following a Supreme Court ruling that struck down the prohibition and asked Parliament to come up with legislation allowing the practice in limited circumstances.
"I'm surprised none of the parties have made a statement about it yet," said Dondo. "Whoever gets elected has to come up with legislation very quickly."
Dondo is running for the second time for the CHP in Portage-Lisgar and the fourth time overall. He says his party has an annual budget of only about $200,000, but he's making use of social media and door-to-door canvassing, which he relishes.
"It's very rare I hear 'Get off my property, I don't want to see you again,' " said Dondo, who lives in St. Claude. "Most people are willing to lend an ear."
Dondo said he's begun to hear rumblings from disaffected Conservatives who might consider voting for the CHP in Portage-Lisgar, held for decades by the Conservatives and most recently by Minister of State for Social Development Candice Bergen. He said he often hears from people worried a vote for the CHP would be a wasted vote because the party is unlikely to win even one seat in Canada. But Dondo says a vote for a non-mainstream party can help shape the larger political debate.
"If you want to make a clear statement about what your values are, vote for the party that's closest to your values," Dondo said. "As that vote goes up, it gets the attention of the major parties."
— with files from The Canadian Press