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Former MP Robin Richardson fighting for Vancouver Island’s separation

Robin Richardson said the mainlanders can build a new seat of government somewhere on the other side of the Salish Sea, but the island would keep Victoria’s landmark legislature buildings

CHAD HIPOLITO/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Robin Richardson has cast a covetous eye on the province's grand parliament buildings.

The founder of the new Vancouver Island Party says the island should separate from the mainland of British Columbia to become Canada's 11th province. Those mainlanders can build a new seat of government somewhere on the other side of the Salish Sea, he said, but the island would keep Victoria's landmark legislature buildings, with their 119-year-old tile mosaics, gold-leaf trim, stained glass and marble-clad walls, topped by a gold-plated statue of Captain George Vancouver.

"In my opinion, we would be better off," Mr. Richardson said in an interview. Especially after Ottawa receives the new province's request for a "large" subsidy of BC Ferries and light rapid transit.

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The colony of Vancouver Island stood on its own for all of 17 years before joining with the mainland in 1866 as the colony of British Columbia – a necessity at the time as the island colony's budget neared collapse. The amalgamation was completed without a vote, however; it was a decision of the British Parliament, on the recommendation of the mainland colonial governor.

Today, Mr. Richardson says Islanders now could confidently make it on their own, with a balanced economy based on natural resources, high tech and tourism. His party platform promises free tuition at the island's postsecondary institutions, and he likes the idea of a guaranteed annual income as a solution to child poverty.

"We are a party that is fiscally responsible, we are socially progressive and environmentally green and culturally respectful. So we are seeking to appeal to people that normally vote for any of the other parties to come to us in this next election."

Having covered pretty much all the bases of the Canadian political spectrum, the onetime Progressive Conservative MP – he served as the MP for Beaches-Ontario for nine months during the brief tenure of prime minister Joe Clark – says his ambitions will take some time to take shape.

The Vancouver Island Party hopes to recruit candidates in each of the 14 provincial ridings on the island by November, to be ready for the May, 2017, B.C. election.

"If we elect some MLAs – even three or four – we could form a balance of power," Mr. Richardson said. That assumes a close contest between the governing BC Liberal party and the opposition New Democratic Party. He said the Vancouver Island Party MLAs would offer to support the government – whichever party that turns out to be – "and in return for that we would request a referendum in 2021 – that's the next provincial election."

At that point, if a majority of Islanders said "yes" to leaving British Columbia, negotiations would begin to enter Confederation as a new province.

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With a population larger than three provinces – New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island – and each of the three territories, Mr. Richardson figures the B.C. legislature could eventually be the home of 50 MLAs for the new Island province.

Premier Christy Clark shrugged off the initiative when asked about the fledgling party this week: "I tell you, if they leave British Columbia, they are not going to be getting any of those LNG revenues."

Not that British Columbians on the Island or on the mainland have seen much of the promised riches of a liquefied natural gas sector yet, but Ms. Clark's dismissive reaction suggests she is not too worried about another potential player in the B.C. political realm. Then again, her party only holds two of the 14 seats on the Island.

Where would the trimmed-down province of British Columbia build a new legislature? Mr. Richardson offered no opinion, but history offers a suggestion. New Westminster briefly served as the capital of the mainland colony and narrowly lost the vote to remain the capital when the two colonies were merged almost 150 years ago.

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