Vicki Huntington doesn’t quite stoop down and run her fingers lovingly through the rich soil, as stagey, cinematic farmers are prone to do. But her passionate defence of the fertile agricultural land that covers much of her Delta South riding leaves little else to the imagination.
“For me, the land is everything,” Ms. Huntington says. “It’s the best soil in Canada. It underlies our quality of life. It’s why people moved here. It’s maintained a way of life for 100 years, and it sustains migratory bird flyways.”
She pauses for breath. “To have it taken out of the hands of farmers and gobbled up for industrial purposes is an immoral use of land.”
For Ms. Huntington, the first independent to be elected to the B.C. legislature in 60 years, preserving the farmland of Delta South and the region’s interdependent migratory-bird flyways have become the great cause of her political life.
Already concerned over removal of land from B.C.’s sacrosanct Agricultural Land Reserve for a new highway and the Tsawwassen First Nations treaty, Ms. Huntington is increasingly worried that ambitious expansion plans by the riding’s large container facility will claim even more farmland.
But as she campaigns for an unprecedented second term – after her historic, 32-vote victory over then attorney-general Wally Oppal in 2009 – she is faced yet again with the issue that bedevils all independent candidates: What can you do for your riding as a lonely voice of one, with no chance of power?
That is exactly the point made by her two mainstream rivals, Bruce McDonald of the Liberals, and the NDP’s Nic Slater.
Both profess to be just as committed to preserving the riding’s extensive agricultural land as Ms. Huntington, but say the best way to do that is to aim to be in government.
Mr. Slater says Ms. Huntington has done a good job. “But I haven’t met any professors of political science who say that independents can do very much in our system,” he argues. “They can sit on the fence, and talk out of both sides of their mouth. Heck, she voted with the Liberals on the budget.”
Mr. McDonald, a veteran Delta councillor and former political ally of Ms. Huntington on council, agrees she has worked fairly hard for the riding. “But I don’t think we’ve really had anything of substance accomplished in the community for the last four years.
“It’s actually quite an easy job,” he says. “You can rail away about anything you want, complain about anything you want, and you’re really not held accountable to bring anything to fruition.”
Yet Ms. Huntington, who says she learned to love the good earth of Delta from her father, Ron, a former federal Tory cabinet minister, remains committed to political independence.
“For me, it’s integrity. I have no reason to be anything but absolutely honest with my constituents. I can say whatever I want out loud,” she says. “I believe that’s what people want, not trained seals.”
While conceding she has no real power to effect change, Ms. Huntington believes her efforts have led to a pushback against the container facility’s hopes to encroach on farmland. “We’ve forced the government to backpedal on its drive to support the port in any way it could, and I was at the forefront of that.”
Mr. McDonald scoffs at her assertion, pointing to opposition by himself and other Delta councilors to port use of the land. “But the way to preserve Delta is through negotiation and co-operation.”
While the Liberals and NDP pound away on their party platforms across the province, the battle in Delta South is almost certain to turn on whether Ms. Huntington deserves another stint in Victoria as that rarest of MLAs, an independent.
This time, with major issues that fuelled anti-Liberal anger in 2009 mere memories, she will have to win it on her own record. The hard-working, upbeat Ms. Huntington will be helped by the decisions of the Green and Conservative parties not to field a candidate, a larger financial war chest and more campaign workers.
Still, it will not be easy. No provincial independent in the history of B.C. has ever been elected to a second term.
Riding Snapshot: Delta South
Vicki Huntington Independent (incumbent)
Bruce McDonald B.C. Liberal
Nic Slater B.C. NDP
2009 election: Independent candidate Vicki Huntington won the riding with 42.50 per cent of the vote; Liberal candidate Wally Oppal came in second with 42.36 per cent; NDP candidate Dileep Joseph Anthony Athaide was third with 12.52 per cent
Seniors, 65 and older, in private households: 16 per cent (B.C. average 14 per cent)
Average household income, before tax: $86,993 (B.C. average $67,675)
Source: Elections B.C. and B.C. Stats