When Nanaimo’s mayor-elect Leonard Krog reflects on his political inspiration, he thinks of his Granny Best first.
Euphrates Best joined the British Labour Party shortly after it was founded, after hearing Scottish trade unionist Keir Hardie speak in Newcastle, England. Hardie was a founder of the Labour party and its first leader in the House of Commons in 1906.
Best, Krog’s maternal grandmother, came to Canada in 1915 to marry his grandfather. His grandparents joined the Socialist Party of Canada.
His mother, Eileen, recalled riding in the back of a pickup truck from the family home in Coombs to Nanaimo to learn more about the new Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, which eventually became the NDP. Local and national politicians were frequent visitors, often sitting around the family dining table.
“I come from a highly political background,” said Krog, 65, a lawyer and five-time NDP MLA. He was first elected to Parksville-Qualicum riding in 1991 and has represented Nanaimo since 2005.
Granny Best did not have a lot of formal schooling, “but she was a voracious reader and there were always books around — books, periodicals, newspapers.” She passed on that love of reading to her grandson, who always takes a Charles Dickens book on holidays and for many years has been fascinated by stories of influential women, such as traveller and writer Gertrude Bell.
He has only slight memories of his logging-contractor father, Doug Krog, who drowned when his son was four. Eileen Krog, who died in 2009, raised her four children — Krog was the youngest — and resumed teaching.
His early days set the foundation for his future. Krog has served on organizations, such as the Mid-Island Consumer Services Co-operative, United Way and Planned Parenthood.
“I think it is equality that has always motivated me the most. And the concept that some people have so little and others so much,” Krog said.
“When you grow up in a small town, you know what poverty looks like.”
Krog’s sense of fairness was illustrated in 2016 when he battled on behalf of constituent — Brennan Smith, then just four years old, whose father drowned at a log boom near Port Mellon. The boy received a monthly benefit from WorkSafe B.C., but that same amount was clawed back from his mother’s social-assistance cheques.
After Krog raised the issue, then-social development minister Michelle Stilwell ordered ministry staff to end that practice.
Krog and wife Sharon — they celebrated their 45th anniversary last month — practised law together in Nanaimo and have four grandchildren. Son Parker is a lawyer in the family firm. Daughter Jessica is studying at Vancouver Island University.
Nanaimo residents, exhausted after watching four years of tumult and fighting at city hall, are pinning their hopes on Krog to deliver peace and good governance to their community of 90,000.
Royal Roads University associate professor David Black, a communications theorist and historian, said Krog is a favourite son in Nanaimo.
“Like many successful politicians — especially those whose success is specifically local, as his is — he’s taken as a kind of personification of and proxy for his community, rather than as a mere official representative of it.”
Krog has earned a reputation for being outspoken and being an independent thinker.
In 1998, deputy premier Dan Miller, then minister for B.C. Ferries, mulled moving the B.C. Ferries’ Departure Bay terminal in Nanaimo to Duke Point. The NDP’s Miller said this at a time when the party’s popularity was suffering and less than a week before the Parksville-Qualicum byelection, in which Krog was a candidate. Krog shot back, saying: “I don’t give a damn who the government is in Victoria. They’re moving this terminal over my dead body.” The seat went to the Liberals, with Krog placing second.
Krog ran for the NDP leadership but lost to Carole James in 2003. When James stepped down as leader in 2010, he said she did the right thing for the party.
Former NDP leader and premier Dave Barrett nominated Krog at the NDP convention and worked on his leadership campaign. “I say this with no small amount of arrogance or pride, in 2003, Dave and Shirley Barrett drove up to Nanaimo, took Sharon and I to lunch and asked me to run to be leader.”
Bill Tieleman, former NDP strategist who served as communications director for Glen Clark when he was premier, backed Krog in the leadership race, saying he has great integrity and conviction.
“I think he has been an excellent representative for Nanaimo in the legislature,” Tieleman said. “I know that he was solicited to run for mayor of Nanaimo by all political persuasions. If there is anybody who can clean up the craziness that has gone on at Nanaimo council for the last several years, it’s Leonard.”
Tieleman’s mother, Pat, was a constituent who volunteered on his campaigns. Krog visited her when she was in the Nanaimo hospice, dying of cancer, in 2010. “She was thrilled to see him in her last days on this Earth because she thought so highly of him. I’ll never forget him taking the time to visit her at a very dark moment for our family.”
Pat Tieleman wrote Krog a thank-you card for visiting, signing it: “Your constituent forever.”
Krog, who has served as caucus chairman and attorney general critic, was not given a cabinet post in Premier John Horgan’s government.
“I’m not going to pretend it was my happiest day.”
But Nanaimo citizens had been urging him to run for mayor, increasing the pressure after a cabinet position did not materialize. Family support came from Sharon Krog, who said: “It would be really nice to have you home,” he said.
As MLA, Krog is familiar with local issues. He has long been an advocate of improved health care and has raised concerns about homelessness and opioid addiction, which are major issues in Nanaimo.
Snuneymuxw Chief Michael Wyse, who has known Krog for years, said: “With him taking on this role in our community, we are optimistic that we can reset the relationship.” A rift last year saw the Snuneymuxw First Nation take its flag from Nanaimo city hall.
Krog will be stepping down as MLA soon. Nanaimo NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson has annnounced she is seek the party’s nomination to run in a byelection for Krog’s seat.