It's been 21 years since Vancouver's last independent councillor left city hall, but she went on to become one of the most familiar faces in B.C. politics. Now Carole Taylor has some advice for the latest crop of unconnected contenders.

The woman who would late become finance minister with Gordon Campbell's Liberals calls winning a spot as the only independent on council in 1986 "the best thing that ever happened to me" -- but it wasn't easy to get there.

She told that getting elected was the hardest part of her two terms on council.

And she couldn't have done it without a vision for the future of Vancouver -- something she urges this year's crop of 13 independent candidates to consider.

"It has to be about ideas if you're running as an independent," she said. "Know why you're running -- hopefully you're running because you have ideas to make the city better -- and stick to it."

Taylor had no intention of campaigning as an independent all those years ago, but says party nomination rules left her with no choice.

She put her name in for consideration to be one of 10 NPA candidates, but believes she lost because other candidates encouraged their hordes of supporters to select the first 10 names on the ballot. The cards listed contenders in alphabetical order, and Taylor was somewhere near the bottom.

"I thought, that's really a stupid way to decide on candidates," she said.

"I wanted to make a point that you have to change politics."

And so she made the unusual decision to toss her name into the ring without the support of an established party, running the most grassroots of grassroots campaign. She and her husband manned the phones and she enlisted friends to help spread the word.

The makeshift campaign team made their own signs by hand, scrawling the cheeky slogan "Save a vote for Carole." The momentum spread, and soon supporters were spontaneously making their own signs.

She recalls driving through the city and noticing a heart-shaped cardboard sign urging passersby to "Vote for Carole." Seeing that was a good feeling.

"It felt very positive, but I didn't expect to win," Taylor said.

And then she did.

Those four years on council were "absolutely" the most fun of her political career, she says, and all because she was unfettered by party affiliation.

"It was absolute intellectual freedom to make the right decision," she said.

"I would listen to this argument and that argument and then decide what to do."

Taylor says that background meant it was sometimes hard for her to be part of the provincial Liberal cabinet, made to tow the party line in public.

"It's a much more frustrating experience," she said. "The part that is difficult is holding your tongue."

She says party politics make sense at the provincial and federal levels, but there's no place for them in Vancouver City Hall, where councillors debate issues like infrastructure, homelessness and transportation.

"All of these issues really shouldn't be left-right issues," she said. "There's a middle ground if you take off your party hat."

Independent candidates promise honesty, autonomy

But Vancouver voters have been reluctant to give independents a chance, and members of parties like COPE, Vision and the NPA have made up every single council for the last two decades.

The four independent 2011 candidates who responded to a questionnaire this week are all pleading with Vancouverites to break the trend and elect a fresh voice to council.

Amy "Evil Genius" Fox, Grant Fraser, Lauren Gill and Rick Orser all point out that they're not bound by the desires of big donors -- particularly real estate developers.

"The developers refuse to fund my campaign, so I can be accountable to the people of Vancouver, rather than the individuals and business that fund me," Gill says.

Fraser promises that his independence will allow him to speak his mind, rather than parroting the party position.

"I also have no interest in being politically correct, so you'll always get an honest answer from me. Maybe too honest, but it's about stating your beliefs and giving voters enough information to decide who is best," he says.

Orser takes a less strident approach, pledging to find common ground with the other members of council.

"[I'm] willing to negotiate real solutions rather than bicker because of being members of rival political parties," he says.

As for the woman who calls herself "Evil Genius," Fox is urging Vancouverites to "embrace change" and save a spot on their ballots for her.

"I give you something to do with that extra vote -- the big parties want all 10; I just want one," she says.

Lucky for these four hopefuls, Taylor believes that this year's independent candidates have a better chance than ever because of the power of tools like Twitter and Facebook.

"Because of social media, the cost factor has been removed to a great extent," she said, imploring council wannabes to reach out through the internet and find a flock of followers who will trail them to the polls.

She's reviewed the latest crop of independents, and checked over their ideas to see if there's anyone who should be given a chance to break the parties' chokehold on council chambers.

But she won't reveal whether anyone deserve a checkmark beside their name on her ballot, calling her voting intentions private.

To learn more about the independent 2011 Vancouver city council candidates and their ideas for the future of the city, check back with on Friday, Nov. 18.