Future’s so bright: BC’s most prolific heckler considers his options

Written By Rob Shaw

“Hansard stopped documenting what the heckles were… It’s not like the old days.”

––Nicholas Simons

The B.C. legislature will soon be a lot quieter, after veteran MLA Nicholas Simons, the most prolific heckler in provincial politics, announced an end to his long political career.

Simons said he won’t seek reelection in 2024 after 19 years as the MLA for Powell River-Sunshine Coast.

“I started thinking about it in Nova Scotia when I was visiting my old family farm, and I got really comfortable with the idea that 19 and half years was good enough, and I thought it was time for a change, not just for me but for the constituency,” he said in an interview.

“There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of a renewal.”

Known for his boisterous taunts during legislative sittings, Simons has been one of the most vocally-combative MLAs the last two decades. Sometimes he’s knocked opponents off their game with his verbal jabs, other times he’s had to apologize for pushing the line.

“I enjoyed the nature of debate for the most part,” he said. “It’s part of the parliamentary tradition. But Hansard stopped documenting what the heckles were, instead they just wrote ‘interjections.’ It’s not like the old days.”

‘I was devastated by the honour’

Simons said he started thinking about his political future after Premier David Eby shuffled him out of cabinet last December.

Simons had served for more than two years as minister of social development under John Horgan, and oversaw the largest single increase to social assistance rates in B.C. history.

“That’s when I started thinking about what is my political future,” he said. “But it wasn’t the only thing that led to it.

“It was a disappointment, that’s pretty obvious to most people. But I really enjoy being around my colleagues and I had another role to play and took it on. I enjoy being the caucus chair. As I joked, I was devastated by the honour. And I’ll hopefully continue as caucus chair and contribute to committee work and ensuring our caucus is functioning well.”

Eby has not publicly explained why he removed Simons from cabinet. Though Simons did endorse Eby in the leadership race, his riding association also publicly released a letter during the race urging NDP executives not to disqualify Eby’s rival, Anjali Appadurai. 

“I’ve always taken the independence of the constituency association as an important part of democracy,” said Simons.

“I don’t tell my constituency association what to say or how to say it. It’s always been a good relationship, and sometimes they will do things that may not always make me comfortable, but that’s part of the process.”

Simons has also had his own independent streak during his career.

He was one of the so-called baker’s dozen MLAs that ousted Carole James as leader in 2010. Simons went on to run for party leader in the 2011 race before dropping out to endorse Horgan, who lost to Adrian Dix. Horgan would become leader after Dix quit the role following the party’s 2013 election defeat.

There’s always the cello

At 58, Simons said he’s not retiring from work entirely. He started his career as a social worker, then as director of health and social development for the Sechelt nation. He said he may explore teaching criminology again, something he did as a sessional instructor at Simon Fraser University. He’s also an accomplished cello player.

Two decades fighting, BC Ferries service worse than ever

The NDP has not named a replacement candidate for the riding, but whomever it is Simons said they will be faced with the same top issue he faced over his 19 years: BC Ferries service.

Simons made a name for himself in opposition as a fierce critic of the previous Liberal government’s handling of BC Ferries, organizing fiery town halls against provincial decisions to reduce service and increase fares to local routes like Earls Cove to Saltery Bay.

Simons made a name for himself in opposition as a fierce critic of the previous Liberal government’s handling of BC Ferries.

But as he leaves politics almost two decades later, including a stint at the decision-making cabinet table, BC Ferries service is worse than ever. Multiple sailings to Powell River were cut off last weekend due to a crew shortage after one crew member was in a car accident and couldn’t report to work. Some of Simons’ constituents complained publicly that the fragility of the ferry system is holding them hostage in their own community.

“If I could have changed things, I would have had two more ferries.”

Nicholas Simons

“If I were to characterize ferries, there’s been some good successes but there will remain issues,” Simons said, citing legislation the NDP passed to enshrine the “public interest” in ferry decision-making, and efforts to restore service cuts. 

“It’s a constant issue and I predict any MLAs representing a community entirely reliant on ferries are going to have issues like this,” he said. “If I could have changed things, I would have had two more ferries.

“There’s a limit to what the local elected person can do.”

Right time to go

Simons said he’ll leave politics pleased with his career, but knowing it was the right time to go.

Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons is appointed to BC NDP cabinet by former Premier John Horgan at a virtual swearing-in ceremony in 2020. [Photo BC Government]

“It wasn’t really a hard decision,” he said in an interview. “Obviously I’ll miss a lot of it, the camaraderie and the work itself, but I’ve got other ways of trying to influence public policy.”

And he’ll especially miss the heckling.

“I’m not about to put my feet up and sit on a rocking chair and heckle people walking down the street,” he said.

“In Powell River it’s just as likely to be a bear walking down the street as someone else, so you’ve got to watch your heckles.”