The vote for mayor of Nanaimo in the Oct. 20 municipal election is getting attention across B.C. because its outcome could trigger a provincial byelection at a time when there’s a precarious balance of power in the legislature.
NDP MLA Leonard Krog will give up his seat in the house if he wins the mayor’s job.
He’s confident that Nanaimo is a safe NDP seat, saying he would not have run for mayor if he thought the party would lose. After all, he pulled in 47 per cent of the vote in 2017, handily surpassing rivals.
But numbers are tight in the legislature, with the NDP at 41 seats, the Green Party with three, the Liberals with 42, and one Independent in Speaker Darryl Plecas. A provincial byelection would be a nail-biter, no matter how confident Krog is.
Krog, 65, a lawyer, announced his run for Nanaimo mayor at a high-powered and well-organized event in the Coast Bastion Inn. The packed room drew about 300 backers from a cross-section of the city, from labour to three former mayors to an enthusiastic business community.
Businessman Tony Harris, who was among those who urged Krog to run, introduced the candidate at the event. Harris, a sixth-generation Nanaimo resident, is involved in local companies including Harris Mazda, Harris Auto Group, Harris Kia, and he develops residential and commercial properties.
Supporters weary of four long years of infighting and factions at city hall see Krog as the person who can unite the community.
Krog said he has an advantage but is taking nothing for granted. “I’m starting with a huge base of support because people know me.”
He’s up against businessman Don Hubbard, 72, who also has a high profile in the city of 90,000. Hubbard was named Nanaimo’s Citizen of the Year in 2007 and received a B.C. Achievement award for public service in 2016.
Hubbard is president of Hubbard Consulting Ltd., chairman of Atlas Engineered Products Ltd., and former chairman of the board of directors for Island Health.
He helped to raise money for Nanaimo Haven Society, which runs a transition house, and served as chairman of the Malaspina University College board.
Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay is not running again.
Whoever wins the mayor’s job inherits a city where costs have been accumulating for such things as a failed events centre referendum.
Then there were consultants’ fees to try to sort out dysfunction at city hall, and lawsuits against the city filed in the Supreme Court of B.C.
Nanaimo looks out on one of the most scenic and diverse harbours on Vancouver Island. The city features heritage buildings, marinas and new construction. It has a university, an internationally respected federal fisheries research centre, and a mix of business ranging from natural resources to high-tech.
It also has B.C.’s largest tent city, set up five months ago on municipal land. It has grown to about 300 people who say they are homeless.
Krog and Hubbard are keen to promote economic development and investment, establish an economic development body, work toward a more vital downtown, promote sports, and see a proposed private sector foot ferry come to fruition.
They are both concerned about the high number of senior staff members who have left city hall in recent years.
Krog and Hubbard vow to work in harmony with other members of council to ensure that a respectful tone is the norm.
Along with his 18 years in public office, Krog said he understands business because he has run a law office and met a payroll for 21 years.
Nanaimo needs to develop more efficient processes at city hall, when it comes to getting decisions on building decisions. “We are notorious for being slow,” Krog said, adding there is not enough staff. “I say everybody is entitled to get a yes or no as quickly as possible.”
Expansion of a waterfront walkway needs to be discussed with the Snuneymuxw First Nation, he said. He is concerned that extending it to Departure Bay would be expensive and raise environmental issues, saying more information is needed.
Hubbard said it is time to take a close look at the state of Nanaimo’s infrastructure, balancing it with other needs, such as parks.
He wants to consult on developing long-term solutions to the problem of homelessness and the opioid epidemic. He is concerned about the cost of housing and is hearing citizens say that affordable housing is needed.
Investment is needed to improve unsightly derelict buildings downtown, he said.
Raymon Farmere, 36, a marketing and technology clerk with Vancouver Island University is the third candidate running for mayor. He has said he wants to look at creating a non-profit housing organization that would create jobs and provide housing for homeless people in Nanaimo. He also wants to see more support for young people starting their own businesses.