Independent candidate Merv Ritchie says he got into politics to shake up the central party authority forming the foundation of Canada’s current parliamentary system.
“Party candidates are really representing parties and the party leaders to the residents, whereas an independent is representing the people,” Ritchie says.
“With party candidates, you can’t have [difficult] conversations. You have to toe the party line. We need to have deep, intense conversations with context — you can’t start this conversation in the middle.”
Ritchie was born and raised in Saskatoon, Sask. and moved to B.C. when he was 15. The 60-year old lived in virtually every region of the province: the Kootenays, the Peace River region, the Gulf Islands, and throughout the Lower Mainland. Ritchie spent 14 years in the Shuswap and came to Terrace in 2006.
“If there was something I could do for northwest B.C., I would make it a world heritage site,” he says.
This isn’t Ritchie’s first jump into the realm of politics. He entered for the first time as an independent candidate in the 1994 provincial election, and ran unsuccessfully to be Terrace’s mayor in 2011.
Then six years later in 2017, he ran as a provincial candidate in the Skeena riding against current BC Liberal MLA Ellis Ross and NDP candidate Bruce Bidgood under the now-defunct Land, Air and Water Party, which he founded in 2015 with the help of Tahltan elders.
During that cycle, Ritchie failed to file his party’s election financing and disclosure reports by the late filing deadline, according to Elections BC. This disqualified Ritchie from being nominated, elected or holding office as a member of the Legislative Assembly until after the next provincial election.
The ban can be nullified if a late filing penalty of $10,000 is paid, though Ritchie says the penalty is an outstanding debt not necessarily enforced by election officials. He says the late filing was because some addresses and names of donors were not collected.
“They decided not to pursue any charges or the fine against us. What we do have with the auditing firm is a debt, and we can’t even pay that debt because of the provincial government’s new election financing laws. An individual in an political party cannot raise or cannot contribute more than $1,250. Today if we were to pay, our political party would need a whole mess of people to donate.”
The party’s goal was to end government investment in the fossil fuel industry and bring women and Indigenous people to the forefront of government, a platform Ritchie says he stands by today.
For example, he argues the NDP should have done more to recognize the concerns of the Wet’suwet’en Nation prior to LNG Canada’s positive financial investment decision for their $40 billion Kitimat facility.
“Playing the role of ‘boosterism’, encouraging people to invest when the project still had hurdles was and is inappropriate and caused much grief,” he wrote in his candidate statement to Black Press Media.
Initiatives gaining steam with other political parties were also previously included in the Land, Air and Water Party’s platform years ago, he says.
“At the present moment, the NDP and the Greens are talking about free dental care. That’s part of our platform, that dental care is a health care issue and should be free for everyone. The Greens are talking about minimum income, that’s taken directly from our party platform statement published in 2017,” he says.
It takes “a much bigger machine” to get the Land Air and Water Party into the federal election sphere, Ritchie says, though running as an independent gives him an opportunity to have complex, open conversations with lawmakers, and in turn, better represent the public.
“If we’re going to have democracy, we have to allow our representatives to represent us. Right now we don’t have that, and everyone knows it,” he says.
“Just like what we saw with John Horgan, he betrayed a bunch of people in the NDP party because they thought he was going to be against Site C and against fracking, and when he got into power, all those things went ahead. It was the same thing for Justin Trudeau, when he got into power he said he was going to promote proportional representation, Indigenous rights…and as soon as he got into office, all those things change. That’s why we need independents.”
In addition, Ritchie advocated for secret ballots across all levels of government to stall attempts to influence politicians and voters through punishment or reward, or simply, that every candidate in an election should be an independent one.
“They can’t tell the truth, and I can,” Ritchie says. “[The public] needs someone to vote for.”