NDP wins Nanaimo byelection, but Liberals gain in popular vote

Green support collapses, but leader Andrew Weaver cites strategic voting to bolster government alliance

As the B.C. NDP and Green parties breathe a sigh of relief, Kamloops North-Thompson MLA Peter Milobar said his B.C. Liberal Party was optimistic, yet realistic, heading into Wednesday’s Nanaimo byelection.

The Liberals failed to secure the Vancouver Island seat — thus upholding the minority government’s power — but managed to boost support by nine per cent from the 2017 election in a riding held by the NDP for nearly five decades.

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“We controlled what we could control in this and the NDP didn’t falter,” Milobar told KTW, noting the result was not a “stunning shock.”

Milobar called Liberal candidate Tony Harris, who lost by almost 1,900 votes, a “great candidate.” The businessman is widely known in the Nanaimo area by his father, who headed car dealerships and cellphone stores prior to his death. Former NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson, however, clinched the seat for the NDP, with 49 per cent of the vote (10,538 votes) over Harris’ 41 per cent (8,665 votes).

Kamloops South-Thompson MLA Todd Stone was aboard a rainy ferry ride back to the mainland when reached by KTW, having been on Vancouver Island for a couple of days, helping with Harris’ campaign. Stone knocked on doors and helped get people to the polls.

“We had a small army of about 300 people who had come from all over the province, but mostly from the Nanaimo and mid-Island areas,” Stone said. “I believe the NDP had an even larger army to get their vote out. I understand the NDP were talking about over 1,000 people they had mobilized with their union support, environmental organizations and so forth. The NDP are a formidable machine, particularly on Vancouver Island. We knew that going into this.”

The byelection was called after former NDP MLA Leonard Krog resigned after successfully running for mayor of Nanaimo in the October civic election.

Krog’s decision to step down was significant because the NDP-Green alliance had at the time 44 seats compared to the Liberals’ 42 seats. A Liberal win in the byelection would have resulted in an even split of 43 seats. In that case, Speaker Darryl Plecas would have had to vote to break ties, leading to a greater chance of government falling. With the NDP win, a fresh face will be in Victoria in mid-February when the legislature resumes, but B.C. politics essentially remains status quo, at least for now. Milobar said his party will continue to act in its role as Opposition, questioning taxation policies he called “flawed at best”, while preparing for the next general election.

“If the premier suddenly said he wanted an election tomorrow, we would be ready,” Milobar said.

As for the Green-NDP alliance going forward, Milobar said grassroots Green members are growing tired of the government’s support of LNG, BC Hydro’s Site C dam and the speculation tax. He said Greens are also dismayed by the failed electoral reform referendum. Milobar pointed to decreased Green support in Nanaimo. Candidate Michele Ney received only seven per cent of the vote (1,579 votes), with her party’s support in that riding significantly down from 20 per cent it received in the 2017 election.

“I think that’s where the Greens are going to have a lot of self-reflection,” Milobar said.

However, Green Leader Andrew Weaver explained his party’s dismal showing in another light, saying voters cast ballots strategically.

“While disappointing, tonight’s [Wednesday’s] results were not unexpected, given the conversations we have had with Green voters over the past few weeks,” Weaver said.

“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 embers, 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.”

Stone, however, noted Weaver’s confidence in Ney before the election.

“I think there will be a lot of people that perhaps had taken some interest in the Green Party in recent years who will be scratching their heads, wondering why should I bother supporting the Green party?” Stone said.

“If they vote with the NDP on everything, I might as well vote NDP. It will be one of the things to watch for in the upcoming legislative session, the ongoing dynamics between the NDP and the Green caucuses. How firmly committed to one another will they continue to be? Because [Premier] John Horgan’s minority government, its continued existence, depends entirely on the continued Green party capitulation for NDP priorities.”

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