Candidates in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith federal byelection say affordable housing likely will be a top issue during the April 25 debate, especially in light of concerns around two modular housing projects for former Nanaimo tent city residents.
Seven candidates are running to fill the seat vacated by former NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson, who stepped down to run for the party provincially. She is now the MLA for Nanaimo.
The byelection is set for May 6.
NDP candidate Bob Chamberlin, vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said he would have liked to see the provincial government — which funded the modular homes to put an end to the tent city — work collaboratively with the federal and municipal government so that a broader suite of services could address the root causes of homelessness, including mental health and addiction.
Chamberlin is also calling for a rental subsidy to help renters being squeezed out of the market and for the home buyers’ tax credit to be doubled to help first-time buyers get into the property market.
During his visit to Vancouver Island last week, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that if elected, the party would fund 1,400 units of affordable housing in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding.
Liberal Party candidate Michelle Corfield, a former Nanaimo Port Authority chairwoman, chair of the legislative council of the Ucluelet First Nation and a founding member of the Ucluelet First Nation Settlement Trust, said the Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding will benefit from the federal government’s 10-year $40 billion national housing strategy announced in 2017. She pointed to the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre’s new 25-unit townhouse development on Bowen Road, funded in part by $4.6 million in federal funding, as an example of how the Liberal government is adding to the housing stock to quell rising prices.
Conservative Party candidate John Hirst, a financial services manager, said he has heard from many Nanaimo residents who are fed up with rising crime, some of it linked to the modular supportive housing units. Nanaimo RCMP have reported that calls for service around the Labieux Road and Terminal Avenue shelters have increased 150 per cent and 66 per cent, respectively, when comparing the period Nov. 20, 2018, to March 25, 2019, to the same period a year earlier.
The Conservatives are the only party addressing crime, Hirst said, through a platform of increasing resources to front-line officers and cracking down on organized crime.
Green Party candidate Paul Manly, a researcher, filmmaker and communications specialist, cautioned against taking a Band-Aid quick-fix solution to homelessness and affordable housing which, as is the case with the two modular housing projects, can be frustrating for the surrounding community.
There must be an investment in addiction treatment services and mental-health supports so that when people seek help, they get it right away, Manly said.
Manly said he is also concerned by the uncertainty facing renters, many of whom are pushed out of their homes due to property sales or rising rents.
On the issue of environmental protection, Manly and Chamberlin both said they’ve been hearing from voters who are unhappy about the Trudeau government’s decision to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline.
Chamberlin said it’s hard to believe the Liberal government is moving forward on a clean energy plan while building a new pipeline that will increase tanker traffic in sensitive areas of B.C.’s coast.
“Buying the pipeline was the right thing to do,” Corfield responded. He said that the government has committed $1.5 billion through the Oceans Protection Plan to protect marine wildlife and guard against oil spills.
Hirst, who previously worked in Alberta’s oil patch before his career in financial services, said he supports the decision to build the pipeline, which will create jobs and spur the economy. Hirst said he believes there needs to be action to combat climate change, but said the carbon tax is not the right way to do that. He said relying on liquefied natural gas rather than coal will have a larger impact in reducing carbon emissions.
Jennifer Clarke is running for the People’s Party of Canada, a move she made after losing the Conservative nomination to Hirst. The People’s Party of Canada was created by Maxime Bernier after his failed Conservative leadership bid.
Brian Marlatt is running for the Progressive Canadian Party, which was formed after the Progressive Conservative Party merged with the Canadian Alliance into the new Conservative Party of Canada.
Jakob Letkemann is running for the National Citizens Alliance of Canada, which is known for its controversial stance on immigration and multiculturalism.
(Note: The National Citizens Alliance of Canada said in a statement on April 26 that it had withdrawn its candidate, Jakob Letkemann, from the byelection due to “irreconcilable differences in regard to the NCA values and mission,” but he will still appear on the ballot.)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, Green Leader Elizabeth May, Singh and Bernier have all visited Nanaimo in the last month to campaign with their candidates, which one political watcher says points to the importance of this byelection.
“What you’re seeing here … is the five national leaders have been road-testing their political messages for the fall [federal] election,” said David Black, associate professor at Royal Roads University’s School of Communication and Culture. “This is a laboratory for national campaign messages.”
Turnout in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding for the 2015 federal election was 75 per cent, versus a national average of 68.5 per cent.
Malcolmson took the seat in 2015 with 33.2 per cent of the vote, the lowest percentage of any winner in B.C.
Liberal candidate Tim Tessier was the runner-up with 23.5 per cent, Mark MacDonald of the Conservatives took 23.4 per cent and Manly 19.8 per cent.
The April 25 all-candidates debate will be hosted by the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce at Beban Park Social Centre, 2300 Bowen Rd. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. for a meet-and-greet with candidates. The debate begins at 7 p.m.
Advance voting takes place April 26 through April 29.
For more information, go to elections.ca.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected. An earlier version said the National Citizens Alliance of Canada was not a federally registered party when, in fact, it is. It has also been updated to include a statement from that party about the status of its candidate in the byelection.