Nanaimo’s next MLA is about to get her first chance to represent a governing party.
Sheila Malcolmson of the B.C. NDP was chosen by 49 per cent of Nanaimo voters Wednesday in a byelection that had implications for the balance of the provincial legislature.
Malcolmson is only the second woman elected as MLA in the Nanaimo riding, and coincidentally, the first, Jan Pullinger of the NDP, took office following a byelection almost exactly 30 years ago.
Malcolmson said she spoke to Pullinger, whom she considers a mentor, last summer when considering seeking provincial office, and talked about being an MLA in a governing party.
“She was very clear that it’s a fantastic opportunity to make real change in people’s lives, and also the hardest thing I will ever do, that the work of a governing party is rewarding and very challenging,” Malcolmson said. “I’m ready for that challenge.”
As Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP for three years, representing the federal NDP, Malcolmson wasn’t in government or official opposition. Now she’ll be an MLA representing the government, and the buck stops with her party, leading B.C. after a decade and a half of Liberal leadership.
“We are going to continue to move forward in a good way, but we won’t be able to fix everything simultaneously. So there will be some disappointing conversations at the constituency level, I imagine,” Malcolmson said. “But as long as we can keep showing forward progress and taking forward the priorities of Nanaimo people, I’m really looking forward to doing that work with folks on the ground.”
She hopes she’ll be sworn in as Nanaimo MLA in time for the upcoming throne speech and budget deliberations. Beyond that, there have been no promises as to her role in the party, for example any sort of cabinet position.
“It’s not appropriate for anybody considering running for office to have any inducements, so that conversation didn’t happen,” Malcolmson said.
She said Premier John Horgan suggested that as MLA, she would have a chance to do work on a “whole host” of files related to “NDP values” around affordability, fairness, jobs, child care, health care and education, as well as environmental work related to coastal waters protection.
“I know how to be an advocate and I certainly honed that skill in Ottawa, but this gives me the opportunity to implement, alongside the federal and local government, and that was the premier’s invitation to me and the basis on which I stepped up and took the challenge,” said Malcolmson.
On voting day Wednesday, Malcolmson said she and her team felt they had done all they could, but acknowledged that the Liberal campaign was strong and so she was “greatly relieved” to see the vote go her way.
Her party “did not put stock” in the Mainstreet Research poll the week of the election that showed the B.C. Liberals with a 12.5-per cent lead, as Malcolmson said it did not reflect what the NDP was hearing on the ground.
“However, it was highly motivating to our volunteers and potential voters,” she said, adding that early in the campaign, voters were suggesting she would have an easy time holding the riding, whereas later in the campaign, they were more easily convinced that their vote mattered.
“I also think that the vote was a strong endorsement of the work that the NDP’s been able to do together with the Greens,” Malcolmson said. “I heard that people are hungry for seeing co-operation across party lines and that a minority government can be stable when we work well together and I’m very eager to carry that on.”
Malcolmson said she wanted to congratulate other candidates on their campaigns, particularly Tony Harris of the B.C. Liberals and Michele Ney of the Green Party.
“I’m really grateful for their and their families’ commitment to be willing to serve and to serve the community, and I hope I get to work with them in some capacity,” Malcolmson said.