Merritt city councillor Mike Bhangu is looking to expand his political career by seeking election as the Fraser-Nicola MLA in the upcoming provincial snap election.

Bhangu, who is serving his first term as a city councillor, has had many years of political experience on the provincial level.

“I was involved with provincial politics for fifteen years, I’ve helped several people gain office from both parties,” said Bhangu.

“I started off with the Liberals, I assisted them, I even made it to their convention.”

A convention where Bhangu took second place in a speech contest.

“From there I moved towards the New Democrats and I assisted them, I helped Harry Bains get elected, I helped Jagrup Brar get elected, I helped Harry Lali locally here when he ran, I’ve campaign-managed Ralph Poynting’s campaign, so I’ve been heavily involved in provincial politics and I’m very familiar with the issues,” explained Bhangu.

“I’ve been out there; I’ve door-knocked for who knows how many years. And at the end of the day I did walk away from all parties because I didn’t see the change that we require. They come, they go, and we still continue to suffer. So, for that reason at this point I just could not stand with any of them. We need to give another example, and even if it’s a small example like myself, maybe that will inspire others, and maybe we can get some real change happening.”

Bhangu, who won his first election in high school, becoming student president, hopes that as the Fraser-Nicola MLA he will be able to advocate for families and retirees, two groups that he believes are being unfairly impacted by the cost of living.

“In this day and age, it’s difficult to establish a family and to maintain a family for many, for many a family is out of reach, and for those who’ve managed to create one, stability is constantly threatened,” said Bhangu.

“And too many retirees are struggling, it shouldn’t be this way. They gave their life to the system and I strongly believe they deserve better. Where are their ‘Golden Years’?”

Bhangu also hopes to help small businesses, businesses he has witnessed struggling in Merritt and other communities for years.

“Not enough is done to support small business, they struggle and they have for too long, in my opinion the big parties focus too much on the big corporations and helping them survive and thrive, too often the little guy or gal is forgotten about.”

It is also Bhangu’s belief that those with addictions and mental health issues are all too often overlooked by political parties and the systems they represent.

“Mental health has taken its toll on our communities and we must address this problem now,” said Bhangu.

“If we don’t, what will our community look like in 20 or 30 years? In my lifetime I’ve seen the problem grow to unimaginable levels and now is the time to take action. I don’t want to see this problem grow and have it destroy our communities, because it has the potential to do so.”

While running as an independent is traditionally a risky move, as few without a party affiliation are elected to serve as MLA, Bhangu believes it is time for people to look beyond what has essentially become a two-party system in the province, and to look for new solutions.

“What have these parties done for you?” Bhangu questioned.

“And moreover, what I discovered over the years is that we might have a local representative, but at the end of the day if he or she belongs to a party they must follow the party platform, they must follow their master. There’s a party whip, there are many mechanisms in place designed to keep the local representatives in line with what the party wants, and that isn’t necessarily what the people want. We’ve seen this over and over again, we need to get away from the party trappings, we need to get away from that type of thinking, we need more options. They failed us over and over again… So, let’s not do this anymore, let’s show them that we’re not going to take it. Send me to Victoria, let me fight for you.”

Like many, Bhangu is disappointed that premier Horgan would choose this time of great stress and extraordinary health risks to call a snap election.

“Personally, I feel it is extremely irresponsible of the New Democrats to do such a thing,” said Bhangu.

“We have to ask ourselves how democratic is this? Because it is very difficult to get into this race. The opponents should have had time to prepare. Is it fair? I don’t think so. I would love to have a sit down with the premier and ask him, why did you do this? How did you feel that this would help the people? Horgan and the NDP, they chose politics over people, and I’m not happy with that. The NDP, they constantly claim to be the party of the people, but they’ve proven on such a large scale that they will choose politics over people.”

When questioned as to what would happen if he were elected MLA while still a city council member, Bhangu noted that, “I don’t think an individual is permitted to hold both seats, so when the time comes I’ll deal with it then.”

While he recognizes that being elected as an independent during a snap election with little time to prepare will be difficult, the born and raised Merrittonian believes that seeking election is the best way to serve the community he calls home.

“I’m going to put up the best fight I can, and let the cards fall where they may,” said Bhangu.