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B.C. independents see victory within reach

Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson sits on a log in Stanley Park in Vancouver June 6, 2012. Simpson was dubbed "chicken little" when he first fretted about the future of the timber supply in his northern riding which was being devastated by the mountain pine beetle.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

Sow the seeds of provincial politics in B.C. and up pop the three p's: parties, partisanship and polarization. As a result, in election after election, individual British Columbians have split between wanting the so-called "socialists" in, or wanting them kept out.

Third-party victors are few and far between, and successful independents are even rarer.

When Delta South's Vicki Huntington squeaked to victory in 2009, she was the first independent elected to the legislature in 60 years.

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But this election could see a change in B.C.'s longstanding, either-or pattern. Besides Ms. Huntington, there are three other independent candidates with at least a shot at winning: former New Democrat Bob Simpson in Cariboo North, ex-Liberal cabinet member John van Dongen in Abbotsford South, and up in Peace River North, outspoken farmer Arthur Hadland. That's unprecedented in recent times.

While all four may yet lose, University of British Columbia political scientist Max Cameron says the crop of credible candidates without party affiliation is not surprising. "I think there is a real anti-party sentiment in the province," Prof. Cameron said. "People feel the politicians represent their parties, rather than their constituents, and that's largely true."

All four of the independents say they relish the opportunity to speak their minds freely, without the shackles of party discipline. Any kind of independent breakthrough would be historic. Since political parties were recognized in 1903, just nine independents have managed to make it to Victoria. None was re-elected.



Arthur Hadland laughs easily, and why not? The successful seed grower on land his family has owned for generations is having fun on the campaign trail. As an independent, he took 31 per cent of the vote in 2009, and is back for a second run against Liberal Pat Pimm. The feisty farmer from Baldonnel, who is dead set against the proposed Site C dam project, argues that the voice of the people is fettered by the party system. "If this community would vote differently, I think a lot of heads would come out of the chicken coop and ask: 'What are we doing wrong here?' "


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On the final day of the campaign, incumbent Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington – the torchbearer for all independents – was upbeat about her chances of making history. "What will be will be, but I'm feeling really good," Ms. Huntington said Monday, knowing a victory would make her B.C.'s first independent to win two successive elections. Her Burmashave-style signs in farmer's fields have been a big success, and she just won the riding's hot dog poll, crushing chief opponent Bruce McDonald of the Liberals, 49 Huntington dogs to six McDonald dogs. "I've enjoyed every minute of being independent," she said.


Twice, Bob Simpson has knocked on doors, hitched to the NDP. Both times, he was successful, winning Cariboo North for the New Democrats in 2009 and 2005 by modest margins of 503 and 269 votes, respectively. Now, turfed from the NDP caucus in 2010 after a spat with the leader, he's campaigning as an independent. The former forest company executive says the change has been liberating. "You're not ducking and covering, when you disagree with something in your party's platform. You're basically just selling yourself." So far, so good, says Mr. Simpson. Money's rolled in, and hundreds of signs doled out. "People are looking for an alternative."


An MLA since 1995 and twice a cabinet minister, John van Dongen is by far the most experienced of the four independent hopefuls. However, Mr. van Dongen bolted the Liberal caucus last year, briefly joined the Conservatives, then opted to campaign as an independent in Abbotsford South. He recognizes those changes may have unsettled local voters, but the 63-year old dairy farmer believes his long record of service to the strongly rural riding will pay off. "I love that soil, and I love the people," he says. "There's a need in this election for people to have options."

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