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Abbotsford MLA joins independents for reform plan

Independent MLAs John van Dongen, Bob Simpson and Vicki Huntington are proposing a shift to fall elections and more freedom for backbench politicians.  - Tom Fletcher
Independent MLAs John van Dongen, Bob Simpson and Vicki Huntington are proposing a shift to fall elections and more freedom for backbench politicians.
— image credit: Tom Fletcher

Independent Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen has called for reforms in B.C., including more freedom for MLAs in political parties.

As a former member of both the Liberals and Conservatives, van Dongen said he understands that MLAs are often restrained by party politics. Van Dongen said this is one reason he decided to sit as an independent in 2012.

"People in Abbotsford want to know their MLA is standing up for them," van Dongen told The News.

Van Dongen held a press conference on Wednesday with two other independents, Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson and Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington. They said B.C. voters have had enough of bags of cash, instant party memberships, and corporate and union donations influencing their provincial affairs.

Van Dongen said the main point is that MLAs should have more room for independent thought and vote, without being tied to party lines. He told The News that backbenchers are often forced to behave like "trained seals," and should have more freedom to act on behalf of constituents.

The group is calling for reforms to party financing and a meaningful role for backbench MLAs. And they want the changes made in the brief legislative session that begins next week.

"People want MLAs to represent their constituents, not special interests or party leaders," said Simpson, who was kicked out of the NDP caucus in 2010 for criticizing then-leader Carole James' lack of policy specifics.

The MLAs are also calling for B.C.'s scheduled election date to be switched to the fall, so the May 14 vote will be the last one conducted with the provincial budget an untested political document. They also want Elections BC to supervise party leadership contests.

Simpson noted that one of the B.C. Liberal members supporting Premier Christy Clark's leadership bid turned out to be a cat, and NDP leader Adrian Dix won his leadership contest with the help of bulk memberships delivered at the voting deadline along with bags of cash to cover the $10 NDP membership fee.

Huntington, the only MLA elected as an independent in 2009, said B.C. is one of the last places in Canada that still allows political donations from corporate and union sources. She said B.C. should also ban donations from non-residents, to prevent Alberta "oil barons" and other outside sources from influencing the vote.

Simpson said he will ask the government to consider at least the switch to fall voting in the spring session, which starts Feb. 12 with a throne speech.

Van Dongen told The News that the changes outlined in the independent MLAs' reform agenda are simple to achieve. He hopes political parties are willing to consider the option the independents have laid out. He said one reason that he left the B.C. Liberals was because he lacked influence to advocate for his constituents. Now, he is better able to put them first.

Van Dongen said the provincial issues outlined in the reform agenda are ones that resonate with voters in Abbotsford. With the election upcoming, he thinks people across the province will look favourably at independent candidates and the need for change.

"There is a lot of frustrations among voters in Abbotsford… They recognize that something is wrong (in B.C.'s legislature.)"

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