Housing, ferries, urban sprawl: Nanaimo candidates square off

Housing affordability, a dreamed-of foot ferry to Vancouver, and transportation challenges were among topics three Nanaimo byelection candidates faced in a debate on Monday night.

Nanaimo’s sprawling urban design has resulted in neighbourhoods where residents can not walk or ride a bicycle to get a carton of milk but must drive, said Michele Ney, the Green party’s candidate.

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Ney, who said she is unable to do that in her neighbourhood, wants to bring “community back.”

Liberal candidate Tony Harris is calling for ride-sharing and improved B.C. Transit service to create a more livable and connected city.

Like Harris, the NDP’s Sheila Malcolmson favours the idea of a passenger ferry connecting Nanaimo and Vancouver harbours, saying citizens from different walks of life say they could work on the Lower Mainland and return to Nanaimo to spend their incomes.

Three of six candidates running in the Jan. 30 provincial byelection debated at the event in the Vancouver Island Conference Centre. It was organized by the non-partisan Forum for Millennial Leadership.

The future of the B.C. government hangs on the vote. A win by the Liberals would put that party on equal footing with the NDP-Green coalition, with each holding 43 votes. Today, the NDP-Greens have 44 seats and the Liberals have 42.

If a legislature vote is tied, Speaker Darryl Plecas would cast the deciding vote.

A seat in the house is vacant because long-time NDP MLA Leonard Krog resigned after he was elected mayor of Nanaimo. Krog, a lawyer, did not receive a cabinet seat after the 2017 election.

Krog is not involved in this byelection because his attention is on his wife, Sharon, who is unwell. The couple celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary in September.

“It’s out of respect for my position [as mayor] and out of my respect for my family, and my wife in particular,” Krog said in an interview.

“I think it is well known that she is battling a very serious cancer.

“This is serious stuff and she is in a lot of pain a lot of the time as a result of the treatment — that’s the reaction to the chemotherapy.”

Krog said he is devoting his time to his family and to the city of Nanaimo. “People expect me to do this job and we have a lot to do. We still have issues around the two supportive housing units … and council is still on its learning curve.”

Continuing on the transportation theme at the debate, Malcolmson, who resigned as Nanaimo MP to run in the byelection, pointed out initiatives brought in by the current government, such as freezing ferry fares on major routes and reducing fares on smaller routes.

Harris said a foot ferry won’t happen without senior government money. A private company has been trying to launch that service.

Ney has reservations about spending public money on such a service. She suggeted looking into ways to move people more quickly on the mainland after they arrive via B.C. Ferries at either Horseshoe Bay or Tsawwassen.

Nanaimo is experiencing a shortage of affordable rental housing. Ney said that there are still more than 200 people without a place to live in the city. Many are on the streets or living in the bush. “That needs to be addressed.”

B.C. has set up two temporary modular supportive housing units for residents of a former tent city but there was not room for everyone.

Harris urged the province and municipality to work together to identify areas where more density could be permitted.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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