Krog elected Nanaimo mayor; byelection by January to replace MLA, premier says

Update: A byelection in the provincial riding of Nanaimo, to replace MLA Leonard Krog, will be called on or before the start of January, Premier John Horgan said Monday.

Krog was elected the new mayor of Nanaimo on Saturday.

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Horgan said he wants a new MLA in the riding before his government introduces its new budget, which is typically the second week of February. That would mean the 28-day campaign would start in early January at the latest.

“We will ensure that there is a member from Nanaimo in the legislature to debate the budget in February,” said Horgan.

The byelection will be a crucial test of Horgan’s minority government. If it can retain the seat, the NDP-Green alliance that governs the legislature would hold. However, if the Opposition Liberals win the byelection, then the legislature would be deadlocked in a tie, threatening the viability of the government and raising the odds of an early election.

The provincial riding of Nanaimo has been an NDP stronghold since 1963.

“You can never take anything for granted,” said Horgan. However, he pointed out Krog won with an overwhelming mandate in the mayor race, and the NDP has had large majorities there in previous provincial campaigns as well. — Rob Shaw, Vancouver Sun

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Leonard Krog has not yet decided when he will resign as NDP MLA for Nanaimo after storming to victory with 20,000-plus votes in the race for mayor

“Do I remain on unpaid leave and available for the House (in the provincial legislature) until the end of November or when do I officially resign my seat?

“Over the next few days I’ll obviously have discussions with the (NDP) whip and see where the leg (legislature) is at and what not,” he said.

A whip in a political party is responsible for making sure elected officials fill their seats when the house is in session, particularly when there is a crucial vote.

Michael Prince, UVic Lansdowne professor of social policy, said that although Premier John Horgan would have up to six months to call a byelection, he expects that would be expedited, given that the NDP is in power with a minority government. He predicts the byelection will happen in January, or early February at the latest. “I would think that he (Horgan) would want to have a new NDP MLA in the House for the February budget.”

The NDP, with 41 seats, is serving as government because it has the support of the Green party, which has three seats. The Liberal party has 42 seats.

Those close numbers ensure that rival parties will be putting a lot of effort into the byelection.

Despite the close numbers in the B.C. legislature, five-time MLA Krog is confident that the NDP will hold onto Nanaimo. Prince agrees that it is likely a safe seat.

In the meantime, Krog is continuing constituency work. He took unpaid leave starting Sept. 22 to run in the municipal election.

Nanaimo’s new council will be sworn in on Nov. 5.

Krog said Sunday, “I have already had a chat with (Nanaimo Mayor) Bill McKay this morning and we are going to have a much longer this week to talk about the transition and things of that nature.” McKay did not run for mayor again.

Krog pulled in 20,040 votes, winning 72.9 per cent of the vote for the mayor’s race.

McKay, who presided over a turbulent city hall marked by near-constant battles, said, he has one piece of advice for incoming council members: “Leave your egos at the door and deal with the book of business and deal with the agenda.”

He said the new council has some strong personalities.

As well, “I believe that the council has taken a swing to the left but that is not a bad thing. Diversity is good.”

A total of 27,475 votes were cast out of 68,093 eligible voters, meaning the turnout was 40.35%. That is up from a 34.1 per cent turnout in the 2014 election.

Councillors Sheryl Armstrong and Ian Thorpe were among four sitting council members who ran again and were re-elected. Councillors Gord Fuller and Jerry Hong were defeated.

Krog praised all members of the incoming council, saying, “There are no private agendas here. There are no people who are feeling embittered or upset about something. These are people who want to work together and I know that they are going to work together.”

The rest of council is made up of newcomers.

Erin Hemmens, coroner, topped the polls for councillor with 15,937 votes. Her campaign issues included addressing homelessness in Nanaimo, encouraging more housing, improving local transportation, and supporting business.

Armstrong was second with 15,817 votes. She was first elected to council in summer 2017 in a byelection. She attributes her success partly to updating her Facebook page monthly, listing controversial decisions and outlining her reasons for voting a particular way. A former RCMP officer, Armstrong figures that helped get her elected because it indicated she would not be easily intimidated, given council’s combative reputation.

She welcomes the election results. “This group is going to work so well together.” Council members will be respectful when they disagree, she said.

Don Bonner, a businessman who was one of the founders of the community group Our Nanaimo, was elected with 9,674 votes. Both Bonner and Armstrong want to see civic staff numbers rebuilt again after the city lost more than 30 in recent years. The first thing council should do is hire a permanent chief administrative officer, he said.

Bonner said he is confident that the new council will be able to attract new business and new residents to the city.

Also elected is Ben Geselbracht, a former clinical counsellor who owns Yeoman Tree Service, which provides jobs for people facing barriers to the work force. He pulled in 15,136 votes.

Tyler Brown, an urban planner, earned 14,935 votes. Florist Jim Turley was elected with 11,649 votes. And Zeni Maartman, a B.C. Automobile Association manager, received 8,558 votes. 

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Earlier story

NDP MLA Leonard Krog trounced his closest rival to win the mayor’s race in Nanaimo, where he will lead a mostly new group of councillors.

Elected five times as MLA, Krog came with a track record as a local representative who pulled support from a wide swath of the community, ranging from traditional NDP supporters to the business sector.

“I’m humbled and honoured,” Krog said.

“I’m conscious of the old phrase: To whom much is given, much is expected.”

Preliminary numbers reported by the Vancouver Sun had Krog leading with 17,577 votes, well ahead of Don Hubbard, businessman and former chairman of the board of Island Health, who placed second with 5,630 votes.

Krog has said he would resign as MLA if he won the mayor’s seat.

That would trigger a byelection that could affect the minority government of Premier John Horgan, if the NDP loses the riding.

After one term in the top job, Mayor Bill McKay, who won in 2014 with 6,400 votes, decided not to run again.

Krog said citizens can “expect a council that will work together. A council that will not embarrass them and a council that will actually make things happen in Nanaimo. A council that will be welcoming, a council that will co-operate with the provincial government to secure the housing that we need for the vulnerable amongst us.”

City hall will encourage business activity, he said.

Citizens turned out in high numbers on Saturday to vote for change after enduring four years of public battles at city hall. Many have been embarrassed about the tumult and worried that it was discouraging investment in the city of 90,000.

The fracas included lawsuits, infighting among factions on council, two investigations by special prosecutors, leaked confidential documents, expensive legal fees and a failed referendum.

The incoming council inherits the province’s largest tent city and a shortage of affordable housing. The province has promised 170 housing units in modular structures.

Dissatisfaction among voters was clear when 43 candidates put their names forward to run for council, with good governance and respectful behaviour being common themes.

Just four of the eight councillors ran again and of those, only councillors Sheryl Armstrong and Ian Thorpe were re-elected, according to the Vancouver Sun.

Armstrong is a retired RCMP officer who was elected in a byelection in the summer of 2017. Thorpe is a retired teacher and administrator who largely stayed out of the council drama.

Councillors Jerry Hong and Gord Fuller were defeated. Fuller has been a controversial presence at city hall, at one point telling the mayor to “bite me.”

He was criticized by B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commissioner for sharing confidential information from city hall and is being taken to court by the province’s attorney general to force him to take the information down from his social media pages.

Complete election results were not available at press time.

Nanaimo has a history of high voter turnout. In 2014, 34.1 per cent of the 63,861 eligible voters cast ballots.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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