More on Independents in the Legislature

Posted by Daniel on Jun 6, 2009

With the election of Vicky Huntington as an independent in the recent provincial election, there have been several references in the press to James Mowat, supposedly the last independent elected to the legislature. Mowat won his Alberni seat in the 1949 election, but as Vaughn Palmer pointed out in his column in the Sun, Mowat almost immediately rejoined the Liberal-Conservative Coalition then governing the province. He was, in other words, independent in name only.

I must admit that I'd never heard of Mowat. My vote for last independent election victor would have gone to Thomas Uphill. Uphill retired from the legislature in 1960 at the age of 86 having served continuously as the member from Fernie for the previous 40 years. (He was also the town's mayor during the 1940s and 1950s.) A friend of mine recalls visiting the legislature with her father in the late 1950s and looking down on the octogenarian Uphill dozing peacefully in his seat.

But was Uphill a true independent? While he was independent of the major parties -- the Liberals, Conservatives and CCF -- he was supported by the Fernie and District Labour Party, a creature of the area's unions. There were several small "parties" around at the time and the FDLP was one of them. So technically, I guess, Uphill was affiliated, even though in practise he was much more independent that James Mowat.

Uphill, by the way, played a prominent role in the backroom bargaining associated with the rise to power of Social Credit following the election of 1952. He was a personal friend of W.A.C. Bennett's and when Bennett's Socreds won a surprising one-seat victory in that election Uphill was offered a post in the Bennett cabinet if he threw his support to the new government. Every seat was precious in such an unstable minority situation. It must have been tempting because Uphill, who had close ties to the Communist Party, was never friendly with the CCF, which was vehemently anti-Communist. Nonetheless, in the end Uphill said he would support the left-wing CCF, not the right-wing Social Credit.

Whether or not Tom Uphill was the last elected independent or not, he definitely holds the record as the longest-serving MLA in BC history.