Nanaimo byelection in BC could be sign of Canadian times (even if NDP finally wins)

Jan 28th, 2019 | By | Category: In Brief

Beautiful downtown Nanaimo from the waterfront.

The most interesting Canadian political event this week is almost certainly the BC provincial byelection in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, Wednesday, January 30, 2019.

John Horgan’s current BC NDP government in Victoria remains in office with the help of three Green party Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs). And the NDP/Greens together are just very slightly ahead of the opposition BC Liberals.

Last June former NDP MLA for Nanaimo Leonard Krog announced he would resign his seat if he won the Nanaimo mayoral race in October, prompting a byelection to fill the vacancy. At this point headlines advised : “NDP seat ‘pretty safe’ in looming Nanaimo byelection: analyst.”

Nanaimo in its regional setting.

Krog did win the mayoral election in October, and the byelection became inevitable. But in November 2018 Mainstreet Research released a poll “that shows a neck-and-neck race between the BC Liberals and the NDP.”

According to this November poll, “if the [by]election were held today likely NDP candidate Sheila Malcolmson would get 39.8 per cent of the vote, while Liberal candidate Tony Harris would get 38.2 per cent of the vote.”

The byelection was finally called early this month for January 30, 2019. The main candidates are in fact Sheila Malcolmson for the NDP, Tony Harris, for the Liberals, and Michele Ney for the Greens.

The NMA Big Band kicks things off at Diana Krall Plaza as the Nanaimo International Jazz Festival gets underway, September 15, 2017. (JOSEF JACOBSON/Nanaimo News Bulletin).

As the excellent BC website The Tyee has explained : “Also running in the byelection are Justin Greenwood for the BC Conservative Party, Robin Mark Richardson for the Vancouver Island Party and Libertarian Bill Walker.”

Andrew MacLeod at The Tyee has also explained what would happen if Tony Harris actually did take Nanaimo for the opposition Liberals this Wednesday  : “If the Liberals win, they will hold 43 seats, matching the number that the NDP (40) and Green Party (three) together hold. Since the Speaker supports the government in tie votes, the New Democrats would have the ability to govern, but with little margin for error …”

(And as noted by John Copsey at Global News, such a recurrent standoff in the legislature could soon enough “result in an early provincial election.” )

To add to the excitement, Mainstreet Research has just come out with a Nanaimo byelection poll that suggests “among decided and leaning voters, the Liberals have 44.7 per cent support while the NDP have 32.2 per cent. The Greens have 13.7 per cent while the BC Conservatives have seven per cent.”

Nanaimo provincial byelection signs, January 2019.

Byelections can be notoriously difficult to predict. Mainstreet CEO Quito Maggi notes : “The caution here is that voter turnout patterns in by-elections are always quite different … It might be a little bit closer than these numbers point to.”

But if Tony Harris does win for the BC Liberals the potentially wild and crazy Canadian political year of 2019 (with Alberta provincial and Canadian federal elections also looming ahead) could be off to an even more intriguing start than usual. The best advice of course remains stay tuned! The deciding moment in The Case of the Nanaimo Byelection is now only two days away.

UPDATE JAN 31, 2 AM ET/JAN 30 11 PM PT : Despite the latest poll above, with most of the vote now counted Sheila Malcolmson has about 49% for the NDP and Tony Harris only 41% for the Liberals. As one Nanaimo resident has explained : “A lot of people didn’t want a change in government” in Victoria, when push came to shove.  And that crystallizing feeling in the end may have been the last-minute movement (or “pattern”) that the most recent Mainstreet poll couldn’t capture. Congrats to Ms Malcolmson (and Mr Horgan) in any case. The NDP/Green show continues on Canada’s Pacific Coast!

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