A well-known former Speaker of the Legislature is attempting a political comeback in the upcoming provincial election but he is cutting ties with his former political party.
Michael (Tanker) Malley was a school bus driver until he was elected as a Progressive Conservative MLA in 1999. He briefly served as the Speaker until he was defeated in the 2006 provincial election.
After eight years on the sidelines of provincial politics, Malley will put his name on the ballot in the riding of Miramichi as an independent candidate in September's election.
Malley is joining the race in the newly merged, city-wide riding of Miramichi, which already featured Miramichi Centre Progressive Conservative MLA Robert Trevors, a cabinet minister, and Miramichi-Bay du Vin Liberal MLA Bill Fraser.
Fraser was the Liberal who defeated Malley in 2006.
But this time, Malley said he believes voters want to see more independent voices in politics and not candidates parroting party talking points.
"You know I think people now want their elected officials to be able to speak freely," Malley said.
This isn’t the first time that Malley has stepped away from party politics.
Malley quit the Tory party in 2006 to sit as an independent and claimed at the time that he was frustrated by the way his riding had been ignored by the Tory government.
Malley became Speaker shortly after he bolted the party,only to rejoin the Progressive Conservatives prior to the 2006 provincial election.
That episode is one reason he said the province needs more MLAs without party ties.
"There's lots of things I wanted to say, but couldn't say things or even sometimes get up and debate in the House,” Malley said.
"In my heart, I'm better off going as an independent and that way there, I'm not loyal to any political party, that way there I'm not loyal to any leader. I'd be loyal to the constituency and the people I represent,” he added.
Malley isn’t the only one talking about opening up the legislature.
The People’s Alliance of New Brunswick has supported more free votes and other accountability measures intended to give MLAs more influence in the legislature.
Party systems can help, Trevors says
While being an independent may have some advantages, Trevors said that limits an elected official's ability to influence policy decisions that can help constituents.
"I'm very comfortable that I could represent them better within the structure of a government and as we're well aware, an independent candidate would probably not be represented within government," the Tory cabinet minister said.
Malley’s path back to the legislature is also complicated by the fact that political history is not kind to politicians who try to win elections when running as independents.
There were seven independent candidates in the 2010 provincial election. Only two of those candidates received more than 250 votes.
Dale Allen finished in second in the Woodstock riding with 995 votes but he finished well behind Premier David Alward’s 4,672 votes.
And Jean-Marc Nadeau finished in third spot running as an independent in Madawaska-les-Lacs with 644 votes.
Further, Malley’s political stock also took a hit in 2012.
Malley won a seat on Miramichi city council in 2008. There were 10 councillor-at-large positions in that election and Malley finished in ninth position.
Four years later, Malley did not make the cut. There were eight councillor-at-large positions in 2012 and Malley lost his seat when he finished three votes behind the eighth-place candidate.