By Margaret Speirs
MERV Ritchie stands beside his transit-sized bus on a bright, sunny day. A large round image that at a glance looks like a map is high up outside on the back of the bus.
He says he saw the image online and noticed that the Skeena, Nass and Kalum rivers and tributaries formed the image of a man’s profile.
He extended the lines to go around Haida Gwaii which adds the appearance of a ponytail to the man’s head.
Aboriginal artist Henry Kelly drew up Ritchie’s version of the image that’s now on the bus.
Gradually the bus has gone from the map and just sporting the logo of Ritchie’s Land Air Water Party right near the front door, to adding in his name in capital bold letters next to a box with an ‘X ‘in it similar to a ballot and a very large photo of himself.
Duly registered with Elections B.C. and with Ritchie as its leader, Ritchie, who is running in the Skeena riding, is its only candidate in this provincial election.
Since the party was formed in 2015, Ritchie, 58, has been touring the country at various times promoting the party and causes such as the environment and aboriginal rights with which it is aligned.
He’s much changed since his days in Terrace of running a news-oriented website.
As he noted at the Terrace all candidates forum April 18, people are used to seeing him with a long white beard and long white hair pulled back into a ponytail.
Now he’s virtually unrecognizable with short hair, his face clean shaven and wearing a suit, tie and dress shoes.
“I found that my appearance was distracting people who weren’t hearing what I had to say,” he says of his complete change in appearance.
Ritchie was born and raised in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and moved to B.C. when he was 15.
He lived in virtually every region of the province: the Kootenays, the Peace River region, the Gulf Islands, and throughout the Lower Mainland.
Ritchie spent 14 years in the Shuswap and came to Terrace in January 2006 when his brother, then a publisher of the Northwest Weekly, now defunct, asked him to set up its press. Ritchie was a tradesman and did the electrical work.
The paper needed more stories so he thought he would go to a city council meeting and see what was happening.
That was at the time of a particular controversy surrounding the city’s decision to pull its financing of a tourism promotion society called Terrace Tourism and to replace it with another society, the current day Kermodei Tourism.
“People were lined up [inside] all the way to the outside, trying to get into council chambers,” said Ritchie.
“I thought that was the way Terrace was: everyone was active in politics.” That was how he started working as a reporter.
In November 2006, Ritchie’s wife, who he had met when he was 17 on a train travelling across the country and married in 2005, died and his brother quit the paper. It folded the following year.
With the Northwest Weekly gone, Ritchie started up the Terrace Daily in print and online, eventually sticking to online when print became too expensive.
He quickly became a thorn in the side of local political and business leaders, taking what might be unpopular opinions to some but of great interest to others.
Ritchie also became involved with indigenous issues and a variety of indigenous representatives, recognizing that nothing was going to change unless the political structure changed.
“People wanted to protect the environment and protect the land and all this protesting and boycotting and petitioning and marching wasn’t doing anything,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter who gets in the government, they’ll never change anything.”
Ritchie was convinced by a variety of indigenous people start a political party and the Land Air Water Party was born.
There are 87 seats up for grabs in this election and Ritchie’s asking people to think of what might happen if the Liberals and NDP each won 43 and he won Skeena. It would, he said, give him the balance of power.
This is not Ritchie’s first political foray here. In 2011, he ran unsuccessfully for the Terrace mayor’s chair.