Voters had their first chance to compare the three main byelection candidates all in one place.
Monday’s Forum for Millennial Leadership debate at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre brought together NDP candidate Sheila Malcolmson, B.C. Liberals candidate Tony Harris and Green Party candidate Michele Ney for an hour-and-a-half-long discussion on a range of topics. The candidates were given opportunity to present their visions, and also spoke to current events from the campaign trail.
The Jan. 30 byelection to choose a new MLA for Nanaimo has been viewed as critical to a New Democratic Party governing with the slimmest of minorities, and candidates were asked what the byelection means from that standpoint.
Malcolmson said “the stakes could not be higher” and several times, she contrasted the past year and a half under Premier John Horgan with the previous decade and a half under the B.C. Liberals. She said there are two paths, one of which is carrying on with “investments in people” and “the other path is a return to 16 years that we know well: cuts to services, and making life more expensive for people. I don’t want to go back.”
Malcolmson was asked about her potential role in the Horgan government and said while the premier isn’t allowed to make promises, she has asked to continue her work on environmental files related to abandoned vessels and other coastal water protection.
Ney said the byelection represents a “pivotal time,” but suggested that’s because it’s a chance for Nanaimo to have its voice heard while being represented by a party holding the balance of power in the legislature.
“Only I as a B.C. Green can offer both stability and accountability and be your voice for change,” she said.
Harris said “nobody really knows” what’s going to happen in big-picture provincial politics, and said the byelection should be about Nanaimo. Asked if he thought electing him would spark a general election, he suggested that’s not his preference.
“If I win this seat, I hope I get a chance to do my job, because this is a lot of work going through this process and it’s hard on my family,” he said. “I want to do the job, I want to get to work and I feel like as an opposition MLA, I can have an impact. You don’t need to be in government, as Sheila knows, to get the job done and it’s about having a powerful, strong voice that represents the community.”
The first few weeks of the campaign provided plenty of topics for conversation. Candidates responded to comments Horgan made to a Kamloops radio station last week questioning if Harris’s and Ney’s well-known fathers make them equivalent candidates to a more experienced political representative.
Harris said he objects to the premier’s contention.
“I think that Nanaimo’s really proud of the work that Frank (Ney) did and my father (Tom Harris) did in our community and we need community builders,” Tony Harris said. “You can’t only make an impact on your community by being a politician.”
Ney, recently retired after more than three decades of teaching, said, “I have 32 years of public service, where did my public service get missed in all of this, that’s my question.”
Malcolmson said she interpreted Horgan’s comments as underlining her experience.
“The premier wants someone who can hit the ground running,” she said. “I’ve been in elected office in two different levels of government; I want to bring those partnerships and that work that I’ve done … things that have helped people on the ground. And I think that was where the premier’s comments were coming from; I certainly hope so.”
Some of the issues discussed during the debate were the speculation tax, affordability, job creation, and a foot ferry and other Island transportation.
Ney stressed she wants people to support a vision of a clean, green, modern economy, driven by investments in education and technology.
“Over the last 20 years, Nanaimo has lost much of what has made it a special, desirable place to live,” she said. “The economy has changed and we haven’t had the support to keep up.”
Harris talked about how strengthening community institutions such as the hospital and port can bring all sorts of related benefits.
“I really care about Nanaimo. I was raised to work hard and give back to my community and those values are instilled in me … I will continue to do these things no matter what the outcome is on Jan. 30,” he said.
Malcolmson said she’s never aspired to political office, but it’s a means to an end to do work that’s important to her and to constituents.
“It’s not about the government and it’s not about me – it’s about the impact of lives of people, and the environment, climate, everything is on the line here, really,” she said.
The Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce hosts an all-candidates’ forum Thursday, Jan. 24, at the Beban Park social centre. A meet-and-greet starts at 6 p.m. with the debate at 7:30 p.m. All six candidates have been invited to that event.