Michele Ney of the B.C. Green Party, Tony Harris of the B.C. Liberals and Sheila Malcolmson of the NDP on Nanaimo byelection night Wednesday. KARL YU/CHRIS BUSH/NICHOLAS PESCOD/The News Bulletin

Nanaimo voters were engaged in byelection, says professor

General election in B.C. unlikely to be called anytime soon, according to UVic professor

More than 50 per cent voter turnout shows Nanaimoites were engaged in the byelection, says a B.C. university professor.

Sheila Malcolmson won the Nanaimo riding for the NDP, beating out Tony Harris of the Liberal Party by 1,873 votes, with Michele Ney of the Green Party third in the vote count. Turnout for yesterday’s byelection was 53 per cent, according to preliminary results from Elections B.C.

Michael Prince, professor of social policy at the University of Victoria, said he expected the voter turnout numbers to be higher than 53 per cent based on the advanced voting figures. He said the turnout is still very good for a byelection and that it indicates Nanaimoites didn’t suffer from voter fatigue, despite multiple elections and referendums in the last three years.

“That’s healthy for a byelection and given the stakes in this one, it explains the turnout,” he said. “People in Nanaimo were engaged.”

Prince said the byelection results show the Green Party “got squeezed” badly as voters mostly went for the NDP or the Liberals. He said the Greens, who saw support drop by roughly 12 per cent, likely had supporters vote for the NDP in an effort to keep the Liberals out.

“It was basically a two-party race with Sheila Malcomlson getting almost one out of every two votes and between her and Tony Harris, 90 per cent of the votes went to the two parties,” he said. “In that kind of circumstance the Green got caught because people see it and frame it as a clear choice between two main parties.”

Prince said it is hard to determine whether the Green Party’s performance can be considered a major setback in the long or short term partly because it was a byelection and not a general election where 87 seats are available. He said the Greens should move forward from the result by attempting to distinguish themselves from the other parties.

“They’ve kind of been in the shadows and I think some people are wondering what their distinctive brand is and what their identity is,” Prince said. “I think they‘ve got time to rethink and refresh who they are and reconnect with their grassroots and see where they want to strategically pick a few issues and define and distinguish themselves from the other parties.”

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The NDP, according to Prince, took the byelection seriously and didn’t just rely on the fact that the riding has mainly voted for New Democrats over the past 40 years. He said the NDP also had the advantage of being the party in power during the byelection, which allowed them to make significant announcements and promises throughout the campaign.

“They took this very seriously and they made a couple of government announcements along the way, which is kind of new for the NDP to be contesting a byelection where they are actually the party in power,” Prince said.

The last time a provincial byelection was held in the Nanaimo riding was in 1989. In that election, NDP candidate Jan Pullinger beat out Larry McNabb of the Social Credit Party, capturing 57 per cent of the vote. Voter turnout that year was 54 per cent, according to Elections B.C.

Prince said the NDP’s strategy of highlighting the Liberals mistakes over the last 16 years throughout their campaign was an effective strategy.

“It’s still only a year and a half since the B.C. Liberals’ four terms in power and so that 16-year message is still resonating,” he said.

When it came to the Liberal Party, Prince said Tony Harris did a very good job for a first-time candidate. Harris managed to help increase the Liberals’ share of the vote by nearly eight per cent. Prince said the Liberals shouldn’t be too disappointed by the loss even though a poll by Mainstreet Research on Jan. 27 suggested they could take the riding. He said he didn’t put much stock into the poll and doubts the party did either.

“I think their own numbers must have told them the NDP were going to hold it,” he said. “But they grew their numbers respectably.”

Based on Wednesday’s results, Prince said he doesn’t expect a general election to take place for at least a year, explaining that three major parties likely aren’t in the mood to force one in the near future.

“I think we are back to the détente that we’ve had over the last year or so,” he said. “Sure it is a razor-thin working relationship at the moment, but it doesn’t seem to be anybody’s interest right now to call an election.”



nicholas.pescod@nanaimobulletin.com

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