Sheila Malcolmson secured a crucial seat for John Horgan's NDP government in Nanaimo.
Beyond, you know, the obvious
When New Democrat Leonard Krog resigned his seat in the provincial legislature on November 30 to run for mayor of Nanaimo, there was nervousness from his caucus, sure. After all, Krog’s party (along with the three BC Green Party members) held a slim majority over the BC Liberals.
A byelection in his riding of Nanaimo would give the Liberals a shot at adding an MLA to their stable, effectively making it a 43-43 tie in the legislature, with Speaker (and former Liberal MLA) Darryl Plecas holding the tie-breaking vote. If a budget bill was defeated, for instance, it would force an election.
So it was that former federal NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson left her seat in Nanaimo-Ladysmith to help keep the provincial government in power. Though it always seemed like Malcolmson would be a good choice to ignite Nanaimo voters (she trounced the competition in the 2015 federal election, even with the NDP having a bad year), some pundits weren’t convinced.
But in the end, the NDP's concern was for naught. Malcolmson comfortably edged out Liberal candidate Tony Harris with just over 49 percent of the vote, compared to the latter’s 40 percent. BC Green Party candidate Michele Ney finished a distant third with about 7 percent of the vote.
Those were the obvious winners and losers. But who else came out on top or lost some ground?
Winner: The BC NDP
OK, so this one is a no-brainer. Byelections are usually contentious for the ruling party, but the NDP improved on its previous win in the riding, gaining close to 3 percent.
Nanaimo was probably always going to go orange, but it’s a good sign for a party in its first byelection since forming government. It seems especially important in the wake of NDP policies that have been unpopular in some circles, such as new taxes on housing and opposition to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Loser: The BC Green Party
Chalk this one up to strategic voting if you like, but however you cut it, it doesn’t look great for the BC Green Party. The Greens lost more than 12 percent of the vote compared to 2017’s general election and were barely a rumour in the byelection.
It doesn’t bode so well for them in the next provincial election, which is shaping up to be an all-out war between the two major parties.
Winner: Conventional wisdom
When a party has won 13 of the past 15 elections in a riding, it’s probably a safe seat. People tend to overthink things, but unless there’s a scandal or something, it’s hard to see Nanaimo going Liberal anytime soon.
Loser: Mainstreet Research
Earlier this week, the Toronto-based pollster predicted that the Liberals had a roughly 12.5-percent lead over the NDP in the byelection. In November, the same company said the referendum on electoral reform was a “dead heat.” That’s two bad calls in a row for Mainstreet in the province, which will need to start getting it right to gain some credibility back in B.C.
Winner: Tony Harris
Yes, he technically lost. But the Liberal candidate and well-known entrepreneur gained the party about 8 percent of the Nanaimo vote versus the general election. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson acknowledged that Harris will figure in the party's plans to regain power.
Winner: Leonard Krog
Krog would have been unpopular in NDP circles if the party had suffered a byelection loss. As it happens, the new mayor of Nanaimo gets to have his cake and eat it, too. Isn’t that nice? Of course, he'll have his hands full with Nanaimo's city council.