Les Leyne: Independent MLA bows out after making history

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Les Leyne mugshot genericIndependent MLA Vicki Huntington popped up unexpectedly in the legislature Tuesday to say it was her last day in the house.


She had already announced her retirement due to health issues, but a change in circumstances prompted her to vacate two days early. She gave a thank-you to one and all and sat down to a standing ovation.


Which was slightly ironic, since last year she’d pitched the idea of banning applause in the house during question period. Government and Opposition routinely bang their desks when colleagues start to speak and when they finish, which eats up much of the 30 minutes. Huntington had worked out that MLAs waste 3 1/2 hours on average over a session applauding each other. Huntington always did her homework.


With no party and no reach beyond her Delta South riding, Huntington spent a low-profile time in office. But her record as the first independent MLA in recent history is remarkable.


Her riding had gone Liberal or Social Credit for a generation. She first ran provincially as an independent in 2005 and came within 1,000 votes of winning on the strength of local outrage over hospital curtailments. Some other local controversies about power lines and development furthered Delta’s disenchantment with the B.C. Liberals, and in 2009 she ran again.


She not only became the first independent in 60 years, she beat well-known attorney general Wally Oppal. He was two votes ahead on election night, but a judicial recount gave it to Huntington by 32 votes.


She was as surprised as anyone.


Noting the riding’s overwhelming support for the Liberals, in her first speech to the house, she said: “Nobody, especially myself, could have contemplated the massive change that four short years would bring to that extraordinary level of trust and commitment and loyalty.”


What changed?


“The belief that government is for the people shattered. The belief that somewhere, someone would listen was finally broken … A 30-minute speech can’t do justice to the reasons why Delta South feels so betrayed.”


“In other words, it is the fear that democracy is in trouble, and that is why I was elected. I am nothing short of a message to this place and this government. Democracy, as we practise it, is in trouble, and we in this house better do something about it.”


She arrived on an anti-government vote and went to work building a pro-Huntington vote. As a grace note, she did so from the desk used by Delta South’s former Liberal MLA Fred Gingell, the grandfather of the modern Liberal party. She was raised in a Conservative political family and holds to those principles, as well as strong environmental beliefs and avid interest in the workings of government.


In 2013, she made history again, as the first independent ever re-elected in B.C. Most independents leave a party, sit on their own for the rest of their term and then bow out, or get kicked out. Huntington won on her own, and then won again, by a much more comfortable margin. Nobody nowadays does that.


She generally got about one question a week, and they were always impeccably researched and on point.


The answers, not so much.


“You know, Madame Speaker, sometimes I just wish you could bop the members opposite on the head,” she snapped at one point.


Called out for the impropriety, she tried to substitute “kiss,” but eventually had to withdraw.


In her last major speech a few weeks ago, she had some parting thoughts about the fascination and wonder of working in the legislature. She chided the Liberals for being “democratic dinosaurs,” but supported the balanced budget and the fiscal management that it represents.


“I hope I have treated the people of Delta South with the dignity and respect that they have shown me.”


Just So You Know: Huntington’s biggest headlines came at the end of her career. Premier Christy Clark last month created a brief furor by accusing the NDP of hacking a party website to get information. Huntington, who once worked for the RCMP intelligence service, put the silly fuss to bed by saying she did it. But it wasn’t much of a spy caper.


Her staff found the data unprotected on the site.


“Putin I’m not.”


lleyne@timescolonist.com

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