Early in his political career, rural Nova Scotia MP Bill Casey developed an unusual strategy for pushing issues with ministers. Buttonholing them in the House or out in the hallway, he’d broach a topic, whether the loss of a local submarine maintenance contract, plans to close an obscure experimental farm, or rising water levels in the Bay of Fundy. The next day, the papers invariably carried a story on his ministerial “meeting,” leading some in cabinet to wonder whether inadvertently brushing past him in the corridor might warrant a news release from his office too.
For Casey, a career backbencher, he’d done his job: the pressure was now on. “Each minister has two piles of issues on his desk, one the pile that’s in the press, one the pile that isn’t—and they don’t get any attention,” he says. That dogged approach has earned him recognition as the MP who best represents the interests of his constituents, a distinction that arrives just as he retires from politics at age 64 (he’s already started a job as Nova Scotia’s envoy to Ottawa).
The award is all the more meaningful because Casey, a former Conservative, has sat as an Independent since 2007, when he voted against the Tory budget over the Atlantic accord, a decision that cost him his place in the Conservative caucus. Casey had initially supported the budget, but experienced an epiphany over lobster at a local legion dinner. “I knew this room full of people was counting on me to defend their interests, and I felt that I wasn’t,” he recalls. Colleagues say his commitment to the accord is a big part of why he’s seen as a riding man par excellence. “He showed a lot of principle in that regard and I think it showed the true mettle of the man,” says fellow Nova Scotia MP Peter Stoffer, of the NDP.
Casey ran as an Independent last year, winning by a wide margin—something his wife Rosemary calls “the icing on the cake of his career.” Sitting as an Independent was lonely, but made serving constituents easier. “If it was good for Nova Scotia and good for my riding, I voted for it—if it wasn’t I voted against it,” he says. “You can’t do that if you’re a member of a party.”