Sheila Malcolmson wins as B.C. NDP holds on to Nanaimo

NANAIMO — The NDP recaptured its seat in Nanaimo on Wednesday, retaining a minority government propped up by the B.C. Green Party.

Sheila Malcolmson, 52, captured the NDP seat vacated last year by now Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog, fending off a challenge from businessman Tony-Harris, 35, for the B.C. Liberals.

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“We have returned a New Democrat to Nanaimo,” Premier John Horgan told cheering supporters at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre.

“The project continues.”

Horgan called the result a validation of what the government has been doing.

“Nanaimo was not election-fatigued, it turns out,” said Malcolmson, of Gabriola Island. “We have a lot of work to do starting tomorrow.”

Malcolmson had about 49 per cent of the votes cast in the six-candidate field, while Harris took just over 40 per cent, about an eight percentage point improvement over the votes the Liberals took in the 2017 general election.

2019 Nanaimo byelection preliminary results

Harris told a crowd of cheering supporters that he is proud of his “non-divisive, forward-thinking” campaign and would not do anything differently. “I think we really put Nanaimo on the map in this last month and a half.”

Harris said the Nanaimo region is growing and work needs to be done to diversify the economy and bring a tertiary hospital to the city.

Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said Harris ran a principled campaign and praised him for increasing the party’s share of the vote.

Michele Ney, a retired teacher and daughter of longtime mayor Frank Ney, pulled about seven per cent of the vote, compared with the NDP at about 49 and the Liberals at about 40. In the 2017 provincial election, the Green party collected about 20 per cent of the vote.

Ney said she was disappointed that “the message sent out by other parties instilling fear had some influence in the vote outcome of this election.”

She said the predicted split vote on the left never materialized. Much of the Green vote was comprised of non-voters, the disenfranchised and “those disappointed by promises not followed through on from both political parties [the NDP and the Liberals],” she said.

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver said that the results, while disappointing, were not unexpected, given conversations with Green voters over the past few weeks.

“I can say with absolute certainty that our support exceeds the votes cast for the party today. I spent a lot of time in Nanaimo campaigning with Michele, and many members, donors and supporters of our party came up to us saying that while they continued to support our party, they felt they needed to vote for the NDP in this byelection so that the government and our agreement with them can continue.”

“Some clearly went to the NDP,” said David Black, associate professor in the school of communication and culture at Royal Roads University. But, “From what I can see here, a lot of Green voters simply didn’t vote.”

The party received 7.3 per cent of the vote, a slide from the 20 per cent it captured in 2017.

The Green Party did not split the vote as some political watchers had predicted, Black said.

As well, the NDP’s voter-turnout organization “worked as well as it always has.”

He noted that Malcolmson also increased her party’s share of the vote to 49.2 per cent from 46.5, an achievement given the popularity of Leonard Krog, who won the seat for the NDP in the previous election.

Black said Harris is the reason that the Liberals received a higher percentage of the vote. “It’s him that made that surge possible.”

Trailing far behind were Justin Greenwood of the B.C. Conservatives, Robin Richardson of the Vancouver Island Party and Bill Walker of the B.C. Libertarians.

For his part, Horgan said: “I’m confident our relationship will continue to be as it has been — rocky some days, but at the end of the day we focus on what’s best for people.”

Malcolmson resigned her seat as federal MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith to run in the byelection.

Nanaimo has been an NDP stronghold for most of the past half-century, winning 13 of 15 elections, but Malcolmson’s political clout wasn’t a sure bet against Harris’s popularity and longtime roots in the business community.

Harris is a local businessman from a well-known family, going back six generations in Nanaimo. He has been active in Nanaimo as a health-services advocate and has supported charitable causes.

He is the son of Tom Harris, a businessman and philanthropist, who died in 2017.

Liberal backers watching the results at the Nanaimo Golf Club cheered early on when Harris initially led the polls, but their jubilation quickly faded.

Malcolmson credited her success to “hundreds and hundreds” of volunteers, voters, support of the B.C. NDP and her experience as a federal MP.

Malcolmson, who has a degree in environmental and resource studies from Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., where she first met Horgan, was joined by B.C.’s premier three times on the campaign trail. She also received canvassing help in Nanaimo from 32 NDP MLAs.

Elected four times to the Islands Trust and one term as a federal MP, Malcolmson has local roots and a deep history in the party — her grandfather, John Osler, was a CCF candidate three times.

“I can see the great opportunities for Nanaimo to have an experienced MLA working shoulder to shoulder with the premier, with the new mayor, with Snuneymuxw First Nation, with the chamber and front-line NGOs and port authority … to get results for our city,” said Malcolmson.

Malcolmson campaigned on the party’s working-class message, accusing the Liberals of 16 years of inaction that left the NDP mopping up to restore health care, education, child care and affordable housing in the province.

“The affordable-housing crisis hit people here very, very hard and I don’t think the Liberals understand what that personal impact has been,” said Malcolmson, saying people wanted measures that keep housing prices from spiralling upward and open up more rentals.

Malcolmson had to fend off criticism, however, of the B.C. NDP’s speculation tax and failing to consult neighbours about modular housing in their neighbourhood.

“The B.C. government took action to relocate people from tent city to actual housing because of a court order,” said Malcolmson. She said she would continue to push for improved safety for neighbours of the modular housing and act on a mandate from voters to continue to invest in affordable housing.

In the end, NDP officials said they pulled off a win with their knack for getting out the vote using a formidable team of volunteers.

More than 1,000 NDP volunteers knocked on more than 10,000 doors, and got large numbers of supporters to participate in advance polls and early voting at the Nanaimo District Electoral Office, said organizer Glen Sanford.

New election spending rules brought in by the B.C. NDP banning corporate donations and limiting individual contributions also made the race more “people focused,” to the NDP’s advantage, said Malcolmson. “That’s always been the NDP’s strength.”

The polls closed at 8 p.m. and hand-counting of ballots began immediately — including 9,322 ballots from advance polls.

The final count is scheduled to start Feb. 6, when certification envelopes including absentee ballots will be counted and final results will be announced.

The absentee votes take longer to count because the mailed-in envelopes have to be checked against the list of people who voted to make sure no one voted twice, said Rebecca Penz, spokeswoman for Elections B.C.

Also, it take more time to verify information coming in with the absentee votes, she said.

Penz said turnout was steady and operations ran smoothly. Some who came to vote, however, were turned away because they don’t live in the district.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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