Previous political experience is not necessary — character is

Retiring MLA muses on the qualities he'd like to see in whoever ends up getting elected

  • Sep. 21, 2016 12:00 p.m.
Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett in a media scrum

Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett in a media scrum

Barry Coulter

After 16 years in the hurly burly of British Columbia politics, Bill Bennett finds himself in an unfamiliar place.

“Politics is a rough sport,” the Kootenay East MLA told the Townsman this week. “There’s lots of bodychecking, a few elbows, a little charging, and from time to time the odd fight. I’m not so much accustomed to the place that I seem to be right now — elder statesman on his way towards retirement in six months.”

Bennett said that since he announced his pending retirement, “people have been very kind — all these folks who are coming up to me in the riding, emails and phone calls, people dropping into the office. It’s really quite rewarding.

“And it’s caused me to think of all I’ve got here, and it’s somewhat germane to what’s going on, with this renewal with both parties.”

Indeed, the autumn political season in Kootenay is heating up. Bennett’s pending retirement is leaving a vacuum that Tom Shypitka, David Wilks and Terry Segarty are seeking to fill on the B.C. Liberal side, and Randal Macnair and Norma Blissett on the NDP side — each seeking the nomination for their respective parties.

The political swirl has given Bennett pause, to reflect on what he believes it takes to be a successful MLA for the riding, regardless of party affiliation. It starts with the rural-urban divide that often separates areas of the hinterland like Cranbrook from the major urban centres of the province. This was very pronounced when Bennett was first elected 16 years ago.

“We were not on the radar in Victoria, or in Vancouver, in terms of the business community, or in the media,” Bennett said. “And as far as the cabinet went, we were off the map. People didn’t know where the area was. And I found a tremendous amount of ignorance, even apathy, as far as the East Kootenay goes.”

Over the years, that began to change.

“I probably brought every cabinet minister that ever served through the riding,” Bennett said. “I’ve gotten all sorts of media attention to the riding in itself. Before I was a minister — and there were various periods of time in my career when I was not a minister — I gave speeches on Cranbrook, on people in the riding. I tried to generate some interest in the riding. The profile of the riding came way up.”

But, Bennett added, the key is the way the individual elected represents his or her constituents. Previous experience is not necessarily a key factor.

“I was 50 years old when I first got elected, and I didn’t know the first thing about being an MLA, or even about politics,” Bennett said. “And people sometimes forget that.

“They think, ‘oh, we have to have someone with a whole lot of experience.’ I think what’s really important … is that it’s about the quality of the individual, it’s about the character of the individual, the work habits of the individual.”

An MLA, Bennett thinks, should grow into the job.

“The reasons for getting into politics — is it because the person wants to help others? Or is it because they just want a position? Are they going to Victoria to be somebody, or are they going to Victoria to do something?

“I would go so far as to say that political experience when you’re first starting is not necessarily an asset. It can actually be a detriment. You’re better off to go in completely open-minded, learn what needs to be done, and then do it your own way, without a bunch of so-called experts telling how you should go about being an MLA.

“You listen to people, and you’ll find out what needs to be done.”

Bennett said that to bridge that rural-urban divide, it is often necessary to “swim upstream.”

“And you have to really push back against the political machine — you have to push back against the party sometimes, you have to push back against the leader’s office sometimes, you have to push back against just about everybody sometimes, just to represent your constituents the way you believe is honest and true,” he said. “And that doesn’t take political experience. That takes character. And sometimes you have to swim upstream, even when it doesn’t make everybody happy in Victoria. “That’s what we need. We’re a long way from Victoria. And they’ll forget about us again if they don’t have that representation.”

Bennett said its important for a new MLA to find the balance between “that independence of mind, and the need to have friends in Victoria, to respect your colleagues, to respect the leader, to respect the party. I found that balance, and it wasn’t easy. And frankly, I hope we elect somebody who’s not a slave to politics, who’s not a slave to the party.”

Bennett added that he’s confident the B.C. Liberals can retake Kootenay East in the 2017 provincial election.

“But I think the issue is long-term — where you want to be four years, eight years, 12 years down the road. It takes four years for anybody to really learn the job. Then, if they get re-elected — and if they do a good job they will get re-elected — then you get quite useful, and will eventually get into cabinet. The concern for me is not getting someone elected  — my concern is over the longer term.”

Just Posted

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

Students at Creston Valley Secondary School put together an art installation of a replica residential school room. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)
Creston students create art installation of residential school room

The replica was decorated with a small bed, school uniform, and notes written with pleas for help

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

It happened this week in 1914

June 13 - 19: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the archived newspapers… Continue reading

Cranbrook Arts has opened the doors of their  new gallery space to the public with their inaugural exhibit, Kootenay’s Best.
‘Kootenay’s Best’ opens Cranbrook Arts’ new gallery

This exhibit has been in the works for the past several months and features the work of more than 50 emerging and established artists from across the Kootenays

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Most Read