Cariboo North independent MLA Bob Simpson says party politicians are accountable to the party and its leader while independents are accountable to their constituents.
“I made a commitment that I would represent the communities of Cariboo North and I have been in all those communities on a regular basis,” Simpson told the Tribune Thursday, confirming he plans to run in the next provincial election.
He said he hosts town hall meetings regularly — and did when he was an NDP MLA — that are open to the public, not “back room meetings with party members.” Direction from the meetings is then taken to Victoria.
“So I’m accountable to my constituents through direct contact, with no filter of a political party, and no filter of a message box.”
When he won the NDP nomination with the NDP in 2004, he attended candidate school, where he assumed he would bring his experiences as a business person, and as a teacher in Quesnel. He thought the candidates would engage in policy discussions about how the party he had joined would govern the province if it won government.
“Candidate school is to teach you what your messages are so that you can help that party win the election. The only advice I was given was to get my eyebrows plucked because I was just going to be a shell to the media. That was the advice of the communications consultant gave me and subsequent to that I’ve had cartoons in the Globe and Mail and others that accentuate my eyebrows as a funny joke.”
At the same time he was given a message box that he was to repeat over and over again, no matter what topic was being raised. If people listen to any politicians they will hear those message boxes, Simpson said.
“It gives you the language to label the opposing party and the language to frame your party.”
Being an independent also means he’s free to speak to issues that he said neither of the larger political parties will speak to.
“I’m the only one out there raising the issue of this distorted public policy called the Pacific Carbon Trust. The NDP refusing to touch it because they are gun shy from the carbon tax and the Liberals are mired down in it because they set it up.”
On a provincial scale, he can raise issues like hydraulic fracking or LNGs that the political parties won’t touch, he added, “Since I became an independent two years ago, I’ve discovered I am much more able to do my constituency work. I can get direct access to minister’s offices, senior bureaucrat’s offices, and regional bureaucrat’s offices to get problems solved for my constituents.”
His sphere, he described, is “outside the political game” without an agenda. Bureaucrats get nervous about politicians that have a political label because they can easily be dragged into the Liberal versus NDP game.
“When I go to them they know I’m trying to do what’s best for my constituents, I’m not involved in a power struggle. Over the last two years I have had greater access to problem solving as an independent than I did as an NDP MLA.”
If he were to create a pie graph showing how he divides his time as an MLA, Simpson explained it would show 70 per cent of his time is spent working on behalf of his constituents, working with them to problem solve and get results. The other 30 per cent is expended working on provincial policy issues, and a “small sliver” being in the legislature.
“We’re provincial politicians and we’ve been elected to work on provincial issues. I’ve been very vocal about the mill in Burns Lake. I think what the government is doing in Burns Lake is dead wrong.”
He’s received emails from people living in Burns Lake asking him to ‘shut up’ because he doesn’t represent Burns Lake.
It’s a misunderstanding of the role of MLAs, Simpson said. “We have responsibilities provincially to make sure we’re governing the province for future generations at that provincial level.”
Constituent concerns are a provincial concern, he added.
Convinced that party politics is chasing people away from the ballot box, Simpson is dedicated to remaining an independent.
“People tell me they are sick and tired of the party system and having to choose between the lesser of two evils. I think having alternate choices like independents on the ballot will hopefully engage more voters in the electoral process.”
More independents, Green Party, and Conservative MLAs will break the “stranglehold” the two parties have on the legislature and result in a better democracy, he said.