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Stakes high for whole province in Nanaimo byelection

Polls open at 8 a.m. today for Nanaimo voters to cast ballots in what is being called a historic and unusual provincial byelection — one with the potential to change the government.
Candidates Nanaimo byelection 2019
Clockwise from top left: Justin Greenwood, B.C. Conservatives; Tony Harris, B.C. Liberals; Sheila Malcolmson, B.C. NDP; Bill Walker, B.C. Libertarians; Robin Richardson, Vancouver Island Party; Michele Ney, B.C. Greens

Polls open at 8 a.m. today for Nanaimo voters to cast ballots in what is being called a historic and unusual provincial byelection — one with the potential to change the government.

The byelection is being held because a seat became vacant when Leonard Krog was elected mayor of Nanaimo in October and resigned as the city’s NDP MLA.

The NDP, with 41 seats (including Krog’s) is in power because of an alliance with the Green Party, with its three seats — for a total of 44. The Liberals have 42 seats.

If the Liberals win, the seat count would be tied at 43, and Speaker Darryl Plecas, who is sitting as an Independent after being kicked out of the Liberal caucus, would face having to cast deciding votes in the legislature.

> For more on the byelection, go to timescolonist.com/bcelection

But there’s no guarantee that the NDP-Green alliance will stay in place. In a message on Twitter, B.C. Green Leader Andrew Weaver warned: “An NDP win by no means ensures [the Greens] will continue to prop them up. … [It’s] hubris to think NDP have our continued support.”

Businessman Tony Harris is running for the Liberals, challenging former MP Sheila Malcolmson, representing the NDP. Michele Ney, a retired teacher and daughter of longtime mayor Frank Ney, is running for the Green Party. Justin Greenwood is representing the B.C. Conservatives, Robin Richardson the Vancouver Island Party, and Bill Walker the B.C. Libertarians.

Harris introduced Krog in summer 2018 when Krog announced his plans to run for mayor of Nanaimo, and was among those who encouraged Krog to run for the mayor’s job.

Krog cruised to victory, pulling support from all sectors of the community.

Nanaimo has been NDP territory for most of the past half-century.

Mike Hunter cracked the NDP’s hold when he was elected Liberal MLA in Nanaimo from 2001 to 2005, before losing to Krog. He also urged Krog to run for mayor. Hunter said Tuesday he has already voted for Harris.

Michael Prince, a University of Victoria political scientist and Lansdowne professor of social policy, is predicting the NDP will hold the seat, and anticipates that this election will see a higher turnout than in past years.

The NDP has forged strong relationships with working-class voters and union members in past decades. The party is also recognized as being effective in getting its members to the polls.

Royal Roads University political scientist David Black thinks the NDP might win, although he wonders if Krog’s personal popularity “may have masked what is some kind of demographic and kind of partisan change at the level of the Nanaimo electorate.”

A Mainstreet Research poll, released Monday, put the Liberals and Harris in the lead, with a 12.5-point advantage over the NDP. The pollster acknowledged that turnout would be a major factor, and the final result could be closer.

Harris counts six generations of roots in Nanaimo. His family has car dealership and mobile-device businesses, and has supported charity events in the city.

“He’s run more as the scion of a local businessperson, Tom Harris’s son, a strong business presence and involved in all kinds of social enterprise in Nanaimo. He’s run on his own reputation as much as he has run as a B.C. Liberal,” Black said.

Malcolmson’s record includes serving on the Islands Trust and being elected chair in 2008. As MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith — from 2015 until her resignation this month — she called on the federal government to make more efforts to clear derelict vessels.

A former energy policy analyst, Malcolmson said issues affecting seniors and health care, as well as the need for affordable housing and homelessness are are key issues facing Nanaimo.

Premier John Horgan asked Malcolmson in July if she would be interested in running provincially, she said.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com