The last day before the legislature broke for spring break a cabinet minister was forced to resign his seat due to misconduct. The first day back after the break a former cabinet minister resigned from the Liberal caucus, claiming the Liberal Party has lost its integrity. It’s not a fun time for the Liberal “brand” in B.C.
John van Dongen’s departure from the Liberal Party and caucus has once again profiled the unhealthy nature of party discipline and the demands placed on party MLAs to put the interests of their political brand over those of their constituents or the province as a whole. In this case, MLA van Dongen’s departure from the Liberal caucus has allowed him to raise publicly the questions he was raising privately (for some time) within his caucus: questions about the premier’s involvement in the sale of BC Rail and why the Liberal Party had taxpayers foot the bill for Basi and Virk’s defence during the B.C. Rail trial.
MLA van Dongen’s new status as an Independent has also raised questions about the effectiveness of Independents in the Legislature (despite the fact that van Dongen stated he is now a BC Conservative, he will sit as an Independent until the next election), which has given Vicki Huntington and me an opportunity to speak to this issue and argue for more Independents as one of the ways we can improve our democracy.
As MLA van Dongen will soon find out, being an Independent will give him many more opportunities to speak in the legislature than he experienced as a government member. He will also have the freedom to speak his mind on issues that matter to his constituents and on public policy issues that matter to him and British Columbians.
There is power in being an Independent MLA; a power comes from being unfettered from the partisanship and power politics that permeates the party system.
Bob Simpson is the Independent MLA for Cariboo North.