Businessman Tony Harris to carry Liberal banner in Nanaimo byelection

Businessman Tony Harris is hoping his family’s six-generation legacy in Nanaimo will help him win the provincial byelection for the B.C. Liberals.

Harris will attempt to fill the seat left vacant by NDP MLA Leonard Krog, who was sworn in as Nanaimo’s new mayor on Monday.

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B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson announced Harris’s candidacy at a press conference in Nanaimo on Wednesday.

If elected, Harris said he would ensure Nanaimo is given the respect it deserves as a major hub for business and a great place to raise a family.

“Nanaimo has never realized its full potential and that’s because for years and years, we’ve sent the same party to Victoria with the same results,” Harris said. “Nanaimo should matter all of the time, not just when there’s political opportunity.”

Harris is the youngest son of the late Tom Harris, who headed a chain of car dealerships and cellphone outlets in B.C. and Alberta. Tom Harris died in 2017 in a boating accident on San Juan Island.

Tony Harris runs a real estate development and investment firm in Nanaimo. According to his website, he started his first business at age seven, selling peanuts from a 25-cent vending machine in his dad’s car dealership. He said the “start-up capital” for the vending machine came from his winter weekend routine of collecting dropped change from under the lift-ticket-booth grates at Mount Washington.

Harris and his wife, Leslie, have two children and are expecting their third.

Harris advocated for an end to the speculation tax, which he said has stalled development projects in Nanaimo and threatens jobs. He wants to see a foot-passenger ferry from Nanaimo to Vancouver, which would help Nanaimo residents who commute to the Lower Mainland for work and Vancouverites who come to Nanaimo to play. “Nanaimo is the hub of the mid- and north Island, and we need this service now,” he said.

Kim Smythe, president of the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce, endorsed Harris, calling him an “outstanding businessman” who is connected to the community through his philanthropy.

“The Harris family has been much-loved in Nanaimo,” he said.

Harris’s campaign announcement sparked an energy that the Liberals have struggled to drum up in Nanaimo in the past, Smythe said.

Harris endorsed Krog for mayor and introduced the veteran politician when he announced his mayoral campaign in June. Harris called Krog his friend and made a dig at the provincial NDP for passing Krog over for a cabinet seat.

The byelection is crucial for the NDP to maintain the balance of power in the legislature. The NDP clings to power thanks to an alliance with three Green Party members. A Liberal win could trigger an early election. However, Nanaimo is seen as an NDP stronghold, with the party winning the seat in 13 of the past 15 provincial elections.

Krog has promised to step down from his provincial seat, but said he would remain in the role during the fall session to be present for key votes.

Last month, Premier John Horgan and Krog stood by Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Sheila Malcolmson as she announced she’s seeking the nomination as the NDP’s candidate for the byelection.

Former Conservative MP Robin Richardson is running for the seat for the Vancouver Island Party, which has the goal of turning Vancouver Island into a province.

The Green Party has said it will run a candidate in the Nanaimo riding, but has not announced a name.

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