Independent MLAs call for reform

Independent MLAs John van Dongen, Bob Simpson and Vicki Huntington are proposing a shift to fall elections and more freedom for backbench politicians. - Tom Fletcher/Black Press
Independent MLAs John van Dongen, Bob Simpson and Vicki Huntington are proposing a shift to fall elections and more freedom for backbench politicians.
— image credit: Tom Fletcher/Black Press

VICTORIA – B.C. voters have had enough of bags of cash, instant party memberships, and corporate and union donations influencing their provincial affairs, say three of B.C.'s independent MLAs.

Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson, Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington and Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen are calling for reforms to party financing and a meaningful role for backbench MLAs. And they want the changes made in the brief legislative session that begins next week.

"People want MLAs to represent their constituents, not special interests or party leaders," said Simpson, who was kicked out of the NDP caucus in 2010 for criticizing then-leader Carole James' lack of policy specifics.

The MLAs are also calling for B.C.'s scheduled election date to be switched to the fall, so the May 14 vote will be the last one conducted with the provincial budget an untested political document. They also want Elections BC to supervise party leadership contests.

Simpson noted that one of the B.C. Liberal members supporting Premier Christy Clark's leadership bid turned out to be a cat, and NDP leader Adrian Dix won his leadership contest with the help of bulk memberships delivered at the voting deadline along with bags of cash to cover the $10 NDP membership fee.

Huntington, the only MLA elected as an independent in 2009, said B.C. is one of the last places in Canada that still allows political donations from corporate and union sources. She said B.C. should also ban donations from non-residents, to prevent Alberta "oil barons" and other outside sources from influencing the vote.

Van Dongen, who quit the B.C. Liberals and later the B.C. Conservatives, said he was able to speak out about the cost to small business from the new Family Day holiday. NDP and B.C. Liberal members didn't have that freedom because their leaders supported it, he said.

NDP house leader John Horgan said his party is on record in support of fall elections and banning corporate and union donations. But he doesn't think it's likely either one will be a priority for the B.C. Liberals as they use a 19-day session to set up for an election campaign.

Simpson said he will ask the government to consider at least the switch to fall voting in the spring session, which starts Feb. 12 with a throne speech.

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