Nanaimo and Nanaimo-North Cowichan: So many elections, so many reasons to vote

As the Oct. 24 provincial election approaches, Jack Knox is looking at Vancouver’s 14 ridings and some of the issues affecting them. Today: Nanaimo and Nanaimo-North Cowichan.

Jack Knox mugshot genericAs the Oct. 24 provincial election approaches, Jack Knox is looking at Vancouver’s 14 ridings and some of the issues affecting them. Today: Nanaimo and Nanaimo-North Cowichan.

Nanaimo is infested with elections.

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Really, the city has elections like Miami has hurricanes. It has endured nine campaigns in six years, is on its fifth in the past two.

• The 2014 municipal election, which delivered a city council that put the fun in dysfunctional (at least, if you didn’t live there).

• The 2015 federal election, won by New Democrat Sheila Malcolmson.

• The 2017 provincial election, won by New Democrat Leonard Krog.

• A 2017 municipal byelection to fill the hole left by a councillor who resigned after a dust-up at city hall.

• The October 2018 civic election in which Krog became mayor.

• The January 2019 byelection in which Malcolmson replaced Krog as MLA.

• The May 2019 byelection in which the Green Party’s Paul Manly replaced Malcolmson as MP.

• The 2019 federal vote, won by Manly.

And now they’ve got a twofer, candidates running in a pair of seats, Nanaimo and Nanaimo-North Cowichan.

The question is: Have voters overdosed on democracy? Given ballot box fatigue and the pandemic, will they just sit this one out?

“I voted this morning,” answers Rob Dolliver, having been buttonholed at random while savouring a coffee on Commercial Street.

He’s a fibreglass polisher in the boatyard, one who in a typical year works on 70 vessels, including many from offshore. In this, the year of COVID, he was pleasantly surprised to see business only dip to 65 boats, all of them Canadian.

Dolliver is pretty happy with the way Premier John Horgan has handled the pandemic. For him, finding a path back to normalcy is the main campaign issue.

Ah, but the next guy encountered in downtown Nanaimo has a different view. While he, too, sees economic recovery from COVID as the top issue, he’s not at all happy with Horgan for calling an election. This young man voted NDP last time, but now is toying with going Green because of what he calls the premier’s power grab.

A couple of blocks away, Colleen Brown says she hears a lot of people muttering about the election timing, but figures they need to get over it and focus on who’ll do the best job on the real problems.

For her, that means homelessness. The big tent city that was in the news for so long is gone, but now another one, about two dozen tents, is growing on Wesley Street a couple of blocks from city hall and half a block from Brown’s women’s clothing consignment store.

Yes, she says, she’d rather the encampment wasn’t there — its presence hurts her business — but reasons that everyone has to lay their head somewhere, right? Where are the campers supposed to go?

For Brown, the heart of the problem is a lack of resources for those in need. Yes, there has been improvement over the past three years, but more is required. “If you want help, you’re on a waiting list for months. These people don’t have months.”

A decidedly different sentiment is found in a restaurant at the south end of town.

“Get rid of the homeless and stop giving the everything they want,” says a busy server when asked what she wants out of the election.

She’s well past retirement age, still working hard, and resents her taxes going to what she sees as the enabling of people to stay in untreated addiction. Free drugs? Not when she knows cancer patients on the hook for their own medicine.

Meanwhile, in Bowen Park, Kari White also brings up homelessness, albeit with another take: With the rental market drying up during the pandemic, families are struggling to find places to live.

“Housing is a big thing here,” she says. White praises MLA Doug Routley for taking on B.C. Housing on behalf of some constituents.

The thing is, everyone who was approached had something to say, something they cared about in this election. They were engaged.

Yet some say engaging with those seeking office has been a challenge in a campaign with with no in-person forums, nobody knocking on doors, no volunteers on the streets. In his Gifts ‘N Things store in Chemainus, Damon Henne said he has noticed that disconnect this time. No one knows how it will affect turnout.

In Ladysmith, retired tugboat skipper is cornered outside the 49thParallel Grocery. Will he vote?

“I just did,” he said. Like Dolliver, he has cast his ballot in an advance poll.

“We’ve got the freedom to vote here,” he says. Others don’t enjoy that right. There’s no such thing as too much democracy.

In Nanaimo, voters will have a choice of three women: The NDP’s Malcolmson; Liberal Kathleen Jones, a retired social worker; and the Greens’ Lia ­Versaevel, a self-employed mediator who ran in Nanaimo-North Cowichan in 2017.

Flipping that around, the Nanaimo-North Cowichan candidates are all men: New Democrat Routley, who has held the seat since 2005; Liberal Duck Paterson, a Ladysmith ­councillor; and Chris Istace, a Chemainus business owner.


Nanaimo-North Cowichan

• NDP — Doug Routley* —

• Liberals — Duck Paterson —

• Greens — Chris Istace —


• NDP — Sheila Malcolmson* —

• Liberals — Kathleen Jones —

• Greens — Lia Versaevel —

* Incumbent


Nanaimo, 2017 general election

  • NDP – Leonard Krog 12,746 (46.54 per cent)
  • Liberal – Paris Gaudet 8,911 (32.54 per cent)
  • Green – Kathleen Harris 5,454 (19.91 per cent)
  • Libertarian – Bill Walker 277 (1.01 per cent)

Voter turnout: 62 per cent

Nanaimo, 2019 byelection

  • NDP – Sheila Malcolmson 12,114 (49.92 per cent)
  • Liberal – Tony Harris 9,691 (39.93 per cent)
  • Green – Michelle Ney 1,783 (7.35 per cent)
  • Conservative – Justin Greenwood 491 (2.02 per cent)
  • Vancouver Island Party — Robin Richardson 112 (0.46 per cent)
  • Libertarian — Bill Walker 96 (0.32 per cent)

Voter turnout: 53 per cent

Nanaimo-North Cowichan, 2017 general election

  • NDP – Doug Routley 12,275 (46.89 per cent)
  • Liberal – Alana DeLong 7,380 (28.18 per cent)
  • Green – Lia Versaevel 6,244 (23.88 per cent)
  • Independent – Anna Paddon 274 (1.05 per cent)

Voter turnout: 64 per cent

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