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Independent B.C. MLAs call for electoral changes, including moving voting date

VICTORIA - Strength in numbers is behind a decision by three Independent politicians in British Columbia's legislature to mount a joint campaign to move the province's fixed election date and introduce democratic reforms.

VICTORIA - Strength in numbers is behind a decision by three Independent politicians in British Columbia's legislature to mount a joint campaign to move the province's fixed election date and introduce democratic reforms.

But former New Democrat Bob Simpson, former Liberal John van Dongen and Vicki Huntington, who has long-standing ties to the federal Conservatives, said they aren't forming a formal coalition or a new political party.

"Is there strength in numbers? Absolutely," said Simpson, who was dumped from the New Democrats after writing a report critical of former leader Carole James.

Huntington, elected in 2009 as an Independent in the Vancouver-area riding of Delta South, said B.C. politicians need to use the power of their independent voices on more occasions, but on some issues, numbers add weight.

"What I strongly feel is the opportunity to form a coalition on an issue is invaluable," she said. "Yes, if you can get a group of voices speaking to the same issue, then you do have more authority out there."

The three politicians said they plan to introduce legislation in the coming weeks to change B.C.'s fixed election date from the spring to the fall.

British Columbians are heading to the polls on May 14. After that, the next election is set for the second Tuesday in May in 2017 — May 9 to be exact — but the trio of Independents want a fall vote instead.

Simpson said a fall fixed election date ensures that year's budget is on the books and audited before politicians hit the campaign trail. He said a fall fixed election date would prevent governments from using "every fourth budget as an election platform."

The Liberals are set to table their next budget on Feb. 19.

The Liberals were not immediately available to comment on the Independents' proposals.

Opposition New Democrat House Leader John Horgan said the NDP supports changing the fixed election date to the fall.

Horgan said most recent B.C. elections have also prompted concerns about recently tabled budgets.

"We've had successive elections, I think, from 1996 to present, and all of them have been in May, all of them have led to controversy around the numbers, whether it be in the fiscal year we're just finishing or the fiscal year we're moving forward into," said Horgan.

The 1996 election resulted in the so-called fudge-it budget scandal, in which the governing New Democrats tabled a surplus budget before the election but announced a deficit after winning a second consecutive majority.

In 2009, the governing Liberals tabled a deficit budget of almost $500 million before that year's provincial election. After being re-elected, the government said the global economic meltdown prompted a massive revenue decline that resulted in a budget deficit almost five times greater.

Van Dongen, who quit the Liberals last year to sit as a Conservative and then left that party to sit as an Independent, said the Independents will introduce a series of legislative reforms to give politicians more freedom.

He said the Independents want a secret ballot vote as opposed to the current party-influenced system when it comes to electing a speaker of the legislature, a position that acts as a referee between the parties.

The Independents want more free votes in the legislature to allow politicians to vote on issues without fear of repercussions.

And they say they will propose to reform election campaign financing to include bans on corporate and union donations and permitting only B.C. residents to donate to political parties and candidates.

Horgan said the New Democrats would support bans on corporate and union donations.

Simpson said the Independents want to ensure party leadership races are transparent and democratic, which is why they want Elections BC to run leadership contests instead of the parties themselves.

Simpson said Opposition New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix's leadership campaign saw bags of party memberships dropped at headquarters minutes before the sign-up-up deadline, and he noted a cat made its way onto the Liberal party's membership list as a supporter of Premier Christy Clark when she was running to lead that party.

B.C.'s fourth Independent representative, former Liberal John Slater, did not attend the announcement. Slater has said he will not be running in the May election.