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Posted: April 23, 2017

A tale of two MLAs

Kootenay Crust

By Ian Cobb

As we head toward the provincial election on May 9, East Kootenay voters are finding themselves faced with the task of electing two new Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) for the first time in 16 years.

Back in 2001, Kootenay East voters placed Bill Bennett in Victoria and Wendy McMahon in Columbia River-Revelstoke. It was the last time the BC Liberal Party enjoyed two seats in the East Kootenay.

McMahon was out in the next election with Norm Macdonald’s election victory returning the BC NDP to power in the riding.

The past three elections have featured Bennett and Macdonald achieving re-election – much because they both deserved re-election.

That statement will wrench volatile diatribes and relieved platitudes, depending upon which side of the political spectrum one tilts.

NDP supporters have loved to hate Kootenay Bill Bennett for his often scathing candor and defiance of their viewpoints and wishes, while BC Liberal supporters have loved him for those very same reasons. Not too much flip or flop in the guy.

NDP supporters have loved Norm Macdonald for his quietly passionate persistence, surprising growl when pushed and defense of watershed party principles, while BC Liberal supporters have hated him for those very same reasons.

Now, hate is likely too strong of a word. It describes some people’s views but the collective work of these two gentlemen, over the 12 years they butted heads on opposite sides of the legislature – and there were some doozies – forced most thinking people to temper their views with respect, even if begrudging.

In my case, it isn’t begrudging respect for either man. It is full on respect and appreciation.

For those who don’t know, I do not cotton to any political party. Can’t stand the outdated concept because I believe our society is far too sophisticated now to simply base governance on the political slide rule.

Norm Macdonald, left, and Bill Bennett speak during the July 23, 2012 celebration of the preservation of Lot 48, south of Fairmont Hot Springs. Ian Cobb/e-KNOW file photo

With that in mind, I honestly and steadfastly report that after having covered Bill Bennett and Norm Macdonald’s political careers, from start to finish, that I believe we are losing two excellent representatives in Victoria.

Bennett has been masterful in wresting funds for his riding and in representing individuals needing help in navigating the provincial morass. It was that success in finding funds for the Kootenay East that launched this campaign’s favourite Liberal slogan along the lines of it is better to be on the inside looking out, as Bennett was, than on the outside looking in, as Macdonald was.

Being on the side that controls government is naturally the best route to take if one’s riding needs more provincial supports. However, as the last election neatly showed, polls and punditry can seriously poop the bed nowadays as the Liberals curb-stomped the NDP, viewed as strong favourites heading in.

That election loss for his party was heartbreaking for Macdonald. But he sucked it up and went back to doing what he did best, represent his constituents as best he could based upon what he heard was needed and wanted. Any MLA who sticks to that key job aspect is doing a good job, whatever side of the legislature they are seated.

And to be sure – no one can be a good MLA without excellent staff. They are the frontline workers and in the past 12 years I have heard nary a public complaint about how either MLA’s offices performed their duties – aside from a few clearly partisan jabs.

I am personally going to miss Bennett and Macdonald.

I am going to miss Bill for his unflagging ability to speak his mind. We didn’t get off on the best foot thanks to being on opposite sides of the Jumbo Glacier Resort divide. But once I got to know Bill, thanks to moving to Cranbrook from Wilmer, I quickly discovered that we had a fair amount in common. I realized there is much more to the man.

Like a good hockey player, Bill will stick you in the ribs when the game is on and try to knock your head off, too, but when the game is over, the game is over and he’s actually a pretty good guy.

I found Norm Macdonald to be a soft-spoken educator when I first met him; thought he might struggle in the snake pit that is Victoria because of it. Wrong, wrong and wrong again. Norm proved to be a sharp and determined MLA who didn’t back down to anyone. Bennett would attest to that.

A true measure of how well one has done in politics comes from what is said by people who are not supporters or party members.

I have heard many times from right wing people that they respect Norm for the work he has done, and tried to do. As a small C conservative, I am one of them.

Another true measure on the respect metre comes from those in the know or from other leaders, such as municipal leaders who have had to work with a MLA to get the best deal for his or her community.

With that in mind I wish to leave the last words to two such souls in the know who perfectly summarize Norm and Bill.

First up is former (excellent) Golden Mayor Christina Corcoran Benty who recently stated the following on Facebook.

“I would like to take a moment to thank Norm MacDonald for his many years of service to our community. Public service is difficult, self-less and challenging. The role requires representing constituents with diverging interests, and taking a stand on issues that are sure to please some and certain to frustrate others. I watched Norm speak with conviction and represent his constituents well. He had a desire to do what was right and took ownership of when he was wrong. He listened with curiosity and treated everyone with dignity and grace amidst the vast array of issues. Regardless of your political affiliation, you must concede that Norm is a good man. He is what is right with politics. Thank you, Norm Macdonald.”

Mike Smythe, CKWN Radio Vancouver host and newspaper columnist, interviewing Keith Baldrey, Senior Political Correspondent Global News BC, on the legislature rising for the last time on March 16; Bennett’s last day in Victoria.

Smyth: “This is why we’re going to miss this guy, alright.”

Baldrey: “He was phenomenal. He’s the most straight-shooting, straight-talking politician I’ve ever covered in my 30 years here. He was just extraordinary. He never stuck to any so-called message box. He just said what was on his mind on any topic. And that scrum you just played, that went on, I invite listeners, you can actually go on YouTube and find this thing. It’s 36 minutes long, and it’s just a stream of consciousness commentary by Bill Bennett on Gordon Campbell’s leadership. And it was a takedown the likes of which we’ve never seen before and likely will never see again.”

Smyth: “We’re going to miss him. We’ll probably have his lips bronzed and put up on the wall of the press gallery.”

It is not normal for either of those two seasoned journalists to get all misty eyed about someone in Victoria. I see that as major kudos.

It also isn’t normal for me to do the same.

So now we head to the polls to elect two brand new MLAs. A new dynamic will emerge, whatever the results. But this op-ed is not about them.

On behalf of the constituents of the Kootenay East and Columbia River-Revelstoke, I bid Bill Bennett and Norm Macdonald a fond adieu and wish them nothing but the best in the future. You’ve earned your retirement from provincial politics; enjoy it to its fullest.


Ian Cobb is owner/editor of e-KNOW

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