UNBC Prof Discusses Independents
Prince George, B.C. – What are the pros and cons of being an independent candidate?
The issue has gained relevance this week with the entry of independent Sheldon Clare into the election race in Cariboo-Prince George.
UNBC political science professor Dr. Gary Wilson says the first challenge for independents is getting elected in the first place.
“When we see independents sitting in the House of Commons or even in provincial legislatures, it’s because they’ve often been kicked out of the party,” he says.
“They’ve gone against the party line, gone against party discipline, and they’ve been removed from caucus so they sit for the remainder of their term as an independent and have a lot of difficulty getting reelected when the next election comes around simply because they don’t have the backing of their party.”
He says the challenge is usually financial. “Political parties have sort of centralized fundraising systems and then dole that money out to candidates. Now obviously in the case of the NDP and Liberals they’re going to be focusing on ridings they’ve had a chance of winning but the candidates here will still benefit from receiving some funds from their parties.”
So where does that leave an independent?
“Someone like Sheldon Clare, who has a fairly high profile within the community and has supporters will be able to do some fundraising but I don’t think will be able to challenge the mainstream parties.”
And even if an independent manages to overcome the odds and get elected, he says it’s debatable how effective they can be.
“When they get to Ottawa they’re not part of a caucus of like-minded MPs belonging to the same party so they’re free riders in a sense – they can vote however they want to because they don’t fall under this very strict system of party discipline and can vote according to the will of their constituents.”
But on the other hand he adds “they’re one vote among 300 odd (338) votes so there’s not enough independents really to form a block of independents. So they don’t have the same sort of influence that an MP connected with a party, especially a government party will have.”
So who has the most to lose by Clare’s injection into the race?
“My gut reaction is that the Conservative candidate (Todd Doherty) would be challenged the most but you never know. It really depends on the issues that he brings up during the campaign, in the debates, in the media and so on. He may challenge Conservative positions but at the same time challenge the Liberals and NDP positions as well.”