Monday, June 01, 2009

Oppal’s defeat, independent MLA a chance for progress

It’s good news that Wally Oppal was defeated in Delta South, at least barring a new result from a judicial recount. That sounds harsh, I suppose. Oppal is pleasant. His reputation as a judge and in the community is good.
But he was an ineffective cabinet minister. After four years as attorney general, accomplishments are scant to non-existent. The list of unaddressed issues - gang violence, lobbyist legislation, FOI reform, court delays and costs - is long. Oppal often seemed out of touch, as if he hadn’t even read the summaries of reports that other ministers would pore over.
So, objectively, his departure from the scene isn’t really a bad thing. And the election of an independent MLA, that’s a great thing. Oppal lost to Vicki Huntington, the first independent elected in 60 years. The voters in Delta South - or 43 per cent of them - decided they didn’t want a representative tied to a party. They thought Huntington could represent them in the legislature, using her own good judgment.
It was a big slap at Gordon Campbell and the Liberals. In a 1999 byelection, at the NDP’s nadir, only 433 voters - one in 40 - supported the New Democrats. This should be a Liberal riding. But it wasn’t, despite a supposed star candidate. The election of Huntington is encouraging. No party leader or communications staffers will tell her what to do or say or how to vote. She only has to think about her constituents and her conscience. After a decade watching the legislature from the press gallery, that strikes me as a very fine thing.
MLAs are good people. That’s why they get elected, because the voters back in their ridings respect them and think they will do a good job representing them in the legislature.
And then they lose their minds. Not all of them, but most. They shout and heckle, like schoolyard goons, in question period. They reduce complex issues in the lives of the people who elected them to talking points. Huntington doesn’t have to do that. She can speak for the people in Delta South, not a political party.
The result is an aberration, admittedly. The people in Delta South feel profoundly betrayed by the Campbell Liberals. They’ve seen farmland lost, hospital problems, new highways and unwanted power lines. And their Liberal MLA, Val Roddick, has been perceived - in the classic description - as the party’s representative in the riding, not the community’s voice in Victoria.
It would be wonderful to have the most of the 85 MLAs in the legislature thinking about the people back in their ridings, not the other MLAs or the leaders’ offices or the communications staff and strategists.
That’s the chance Huntington has.
It will be challenging. The New Democrats and Liberals have caucus budgets. Huntington can expect to be shut out. It will be lonely, but liberating, to be outside the clubs.
And the main parties should respect the voters’ choice and ensure Huntington is called on in question period, gets committee assignments and has a full chance to do the job.
The results are a good wake-up call for the political parties. Delta South was supposed to be safe Liberal seat, especially with Oppal as the candidate. The voters disagreed. That’s good. The voters pay MLAs $100,000 a year. They are entitled to strong representation. If Roddick had been allowed to fill that role and represent constituents’ interests, especially on local issues, then Oppal would likely be preparing for a second term as attorney general today. Our system is based on parties and adherence to a set of share broad principles is required.
But that doesn’t need to mean that MLAs must shuffle along like zombies behind the party leaders.
It won’t be easy. But British Columbians should be rooting for Huntington. She has the chance to change politics for the better. F
ootnote: The pundits are predicting a tough time for Huntington as an independent and questioning her effectiveness outside a party. But there are many advantages in her position.


DPL said...

Oppel kept thinking he still had those red robes on and people were supposed to listen to him without question each time he rose in the house to Bs the folks. He made a grave mistake by leaving the bench, lost wages, and credibility with his lack if preparation in the house. The woman who beat him in Delta will be getting offers from both sides of the house to join the gang. If she stays independent she can still get work done. And of course if she can, the folks who want changes in the political system can support her , seeing an idependent voice does carry weight

Anonymous said...

Don't you think Oppal is getting ready right now for his second term as (appointed) AG?

Anonymous said...