NANAIMO — The Green Party of Canada established a second beachhead on Vancouver Island Monday night, wrestling the Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding away from the NDP in a byelection.
The Greens’ Paul Manly is leading Conservative John Hirst and the NDP’s Bob Chamberlin by more than 5,000 votes with 251 of 254 polls reporting.
Liberal Party candidate Michelle Corfield is a distant fourth, according to the preliminary vote counts from Elections Canada.
“It is an honour and a privilege to serve these communities, to serve you and I will not let you down,” Manly told cheering supporters at the Cavallotti Lodge, shortly after media outlets projected his win.
“I am ready to hit the ground running in Ottawa.”
Manly’s victory doubles the Greens’ seat count in the House of Commons with just over five months to go until the general federal election on Oct. 21. It’s the biggest breakthrough for the party on the Island since leader Elizabeth May made history by winning Saanich-Gulf Islands in 2011.
Manly, who describes himself as a filmmaker, researcher and communications specialist, said his priorities over the next five months will include getting to work on the issues that voters raised on the doorsteps.
“There’s an affordability crisis around people having affordable places to live,” he said in an interview before polls closed. “We’ve got a lot of homeless folks here and that’s creating all kinds of other issues and problems for the community. So really that’s a top priority in the next five months.”
He added that a Green victory would send a strong signal to the other parties “to get serious about climate change and to be putting humans and the planet ahead of profits.”
“I was surprised at seniors’ homes, how much the seniors were worried about climate change,” he said. “People were talking to me about the floods back east and the potential for fires here and the drought levels and seeing the forests die. They’re worried about their grandchildren and their children.”
The byelection was triggered by a series of events that began last fall when Nanaimo MLA Leonard Krog left to become Nanaimo’s mayor. NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson then stepped aside to take Krog’s seat in the legislature, leaving her seat vacant.
The Conservatives and Greens both viewed the riding as ripe for the picking, given the tight four-way race here in 2015.
Malcolmson won with 33 per cent of the vote, while the Conservatives and Liberals each took 23 per cent and the Greens nearly 20 per cent.
Elections Canada says the riding has a population of 122,710 with about 99,400 registered voters of which about 41 per cent turned out to vote Monday.
The byelection results appear to highlight the slumping fortunes of the Liberals under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But observers say it’s too soon to say what impact that will have on the general election.
“As anyone knows, the time between now and the next election is, while short, in the political world still long,” said Daniel Reeve, a political science instructor at Camosun College.
“A lot can happen in five months.”
Reeve said there’s a tendency to read too much into byelection results given that opposition candidates traditionally perform better than those of the governing party.
He said there’s no guarantee that Monday’s winner will win re-election in October, “because in the federal election, people are paying attention to the leaders, and the parties, and the so-called horse race.”
Reeve added that the Liberals could still turn things around. “So while Trudeau has ripped his own halo off his head and stomped it on the ground for all to see, that doesn’t mean that there’s no chance of a second term,” he said.
The three main parties split the three previous byelections this year. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh won Burnaby South, Conservative Scott Davidson took York-Simcoe in Ontario, and Liberal Rachel Bendayan claimed the Montreal riding of Outremont, which was previously held by former NDP leader Tom Mulcair.