Premier John Horgan has called the Nanaimo provincial byelection for Jan. 30.
So far, four candidates have declared their intention to run. Candidates have until Jan. 9 to file their nomination papers.
New Democrat Sheila Malcolmson, B.C. Liberal Tony Harris, Green Party candidate Michele Ney and Robin Richardson of the Vancouver Island Party will vie to fill the seat left vacant by longtime NDP MLA Leonard Krog, who resigned in November after he was elected Nanaimo mayor.
The byelection could shift the balance of power in B.C., as the NDP’s minority government is propped up by an alliance with the Green Party. Together, the NDP and Greens have 44 seats. The Liberals have 42.
An NDP loss to the Liberals in the byelection would leave the B.C. legislature in a deadlock, with Speaker and Independent MLA Darryl Plecas called to cast tie-breaking votes. It’s a situation that could lead to a general election.
In a holiday message to supporters, B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said: “we’ll need all hands on deck — as we wage an uphill battle in a traditional NDP stronghold that could shift the balance in the legislature.”
The NDP has won in 13 of the past 15 elections in the Nanaimo riding. Krog won the seat in 2017 with 46 per cent of the vote.
However, a November poll by Mainstreet Research suggested that Malcolmson and Harris, a Nanaimo-based businessman, were in a dead heat. Among decided and leaning voters, Malcolmson had 39.8 per cent support, while Harris had 38.2 per cent.
Malcolmson, who stepped down from her federal seat in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding to run provincially, said she has done enough door-knocking over the past five years to know that the support for Krog transcends partisan lines.
“I cannot ride on his successes because we can’t take anything for granted in this election,” she said. “So much rides on this and we are well aware in Nanaimo how high the stakes are. We can’t go back to 16 years of B.C. Liberal neglect of ordinary people and them putting all their policy priorities onto tax breaks for their corporate friends.”
Many Nanaimo voters are happy with the NDP’s record over the last year and a half, Malcolmson said, pointing to investments in child care, affordable housing, paramedic services and the expansion of Nanaimo Regional General’s intensive care unit.
Harris said the wider political implications mean the Nanaimo byelection is generating excitement, but he doesn’t want that to become a distraction from the issues that impact Nanaimo residents.
“With the stakes being so high, I understood that Nanaimo would really matter,” Harris said.
“It’s exciting to have the attention, but I don’t want it to be a distraction because ultimately these are Nanaimo’s issues and this is an opportunity for our voice to be heard.”
Harris wants to see a cancer care centre built in Nanaimo and a foot-passenger ferry between Nanaimo and Vancouver, and advocates for an end to the speculation tax, which he said has stalled development projects in Nanaimo.
Ney is a retired teacher from a political family — her father, Frank Ney, was mayor of Nanaimo for 21 years.
“Folks in this riding are excited for the opportunity to vote for a B.C. Green who can push government in the right direction – supporting the emerging economy, building 21st-century transportation options, and investing in the next generation through education,” she said after winning her party’s nomination.
Richardson has said that if he wins the byelection, he will demand the NDP government hold a referendum in October 2019 asking if voters favour creating VanIsle as a province. He has also said that Vancouver Island is being shortchanged by federal and provincial governments and that he wants the old Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway route back in service, creating a “safe and environmentally clean commuter and cargo service from Courtenay to Victoria.”
The B.C. Conservative Party also plans to run a candidate but no one has been named.