By David F. Rooney
MLA Norm Macdonald was known to be pondering his political future and today he made it official: He will not seek re-election.
With less than a year until the next provincial election, the popular New Democratic PartyMLA for Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald decided it was time to return to teaching before he became to old — but that doesn’t mean he’s done with politics. Or even that he is stepping down immediately.
With a year to go until the next election he will remain in office until the writ is dropped for the next general provincial election. In the meantime, though the search has begun within the local party to select a new candidate.
“We have a year to put together a team for the future,” Macdonald said in an interview last Friday, May 20.
The winner of three consecutive elections, Macdonald was widely regarded as unbeatable. He won his first campaign in 2005 with 51.71% of the vote; his second, in 2009 with 48.2%; and the last election in 2013 with 48.26%. Those campaigns were waged on shoe-string budgets: $38,430 in 2005; $39,287 in 2009; and $53,095 in 2013. His nearest opponents, BC Liberals Wendy McMahon in 2005, Mark McKee in 2009 and Doug Clovechok in 2013, spent much, much more — $93,950 for 39.86% of the vote in 2005, $120,550 for 37.95% in 2009 and $101,939 for 36.15% in 2013.
The BC Liberals inability to gain much traction with the riding’s voters has left them frustrated. But then, with the exception of BC Liberal Wendy McMahon’s 2001 victory (when that party, under Gordon Campbell, virtually annihilated the New Democrats) this riding has been coloured NDP orange since 1991.
Macdonald’s decision to return to teaching will now give them an opportunity to win the next election… unless the NDP can produce the kind of young, smart and effective campaigner that Macdonald was himself when he started campaigning in 2004. Invermere Mayor Gerry Taft may be that potential candidate. With a candidate-selection meeting likely to be held this autumn, other candidates may eventually come forward.
Whoever the party eventually selects will no doubt be carefully groomed and advised by Macdonald as he counts down the days until he can return to teaching. One of the best pieces of advice he’ll impart to the next candidate will be this: Your constituents come first — always.
“People expect their MLA to speak for them,” he said. “As MLA you’re not a mouthpiece for your party and its leader. You have to represent your constituents, no matter who they are or who they voted for in the election.”
“I always wanted to return to teaching,” he said in an interview last Friday, May 20, adding that he has discussed this with his wife, Karen. “We’ve talked about this for a long time. I can’t really afford to wait another four years to do that.”
In the meantime, Macdonald will dream of the day he can return to the classroom — not the Legislature.
Ideally he wants to teach teenagers in the 15-to-17 age category because in his estimation “there’s nothing that compares to the satisfaction of dealing with young people. You can really make a connection with them.”
“They’re a high-energy group,” he said. “When thing go well there’s nothing like it.”
“I have been involved in political life for many years, including as Mayor of Golden, where I was able to serve in a public role but also spend my days in the classroom,” said Macdonald. “While it has been a tremendous honour over these last 11 years to represent the people of Columbia River Revelstoke in the BC Legislature, I miss those daily interactions with students and with fellow educators.”
Macdonald is candid about the fact that he is getting older, and that the number of years he has left to work are limited.
“I’ve always wanted to complete my working life as an educator. I’ve always wanted to be remembered as a retired teacher, not a retired politician.”
Macdonald is going to get his wish and more. He’ll retire to the wings of the political stage secure in knowing that he does so with the respect of Columbia River-Revelstoke’s 33,000 people.