Nanaimo doesn’t get the attention it needs or deserves. That was the message from local business owner Tony Harris as he was introduced as the B.C. Liberal Party’s intended candidate in the coming byelection.
The announcement was made Wednesday morning at an event in Nanaimo that featured B.C. Liberal Party leader Andrew Wilkinson and other Liberal MLAs, including Michelle Stilwell from Parksville-Qualicum.
Nanaimo’s riding will be vacated by MLA Leonard Krog, who took the oath of office to become Nanaimo’s mayor on Monday.
Harris, who is the owner of multiple automotive dealerships and a residential development in Departure Bay, told dozens of supporters on Wednesday that while Nanaimo is a special place to live, work and play, it can be so much more.
“Nanaimo has never realized its full potential and that is because for years and years we’ve sent the same party to Victoria with the same result,” Harris said. “They haven’t gotten Nanaimo the attention it deserves and Nanaimo is taken for granted.”
Harris said the NDP’s focus has been on Victoria and Vancouver and not Nanaimo.
“They don’t take us seriously,” he said. “They’ve even so bold as to overlook my friend Leonard Krog for a cabinet seat when they formed government.”
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Implementing a foot passenger ferry service from Nanaimo to Vancouver, improving relations with the First Nations, alleviating child poverty and homelessness, increasing housing stock and improving the city’s hospital are among the key priorities for Harris.
“We need an intensive care unit at the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. We need a cancer treatment centre where patients can get radiation. It is high time we said enough is enough. Patients shouldn’t be driving over the Malahat [for care] that they need and deserve,” he said.
Harris is the son of Tom Harris, a business owner who died last year in a boating accident in Washington state.
“Nanaimo needs to get back on the radar and I believe we have a tremendous opportunity in front of us to change that, to dream big, to think big and to do more,” he said. “There are many issues in Nanaimo that simply haven’t gotten the attention in Victoria and I will change that.”
Wilkinson said Nanaimo is an exciting place and a regional hub with “a lot going” on. He said when it was clear a byelection would occur, the party began asking people in the community about candidates who would represent the mid-Island region and in Nanaimo, one name stood out.
“The name that came up repeatedly was Tony Harris,” Wilkinson said.
The B.C. NDP has announced that Sheila Malcolmson will be seeking that party’s nomination to run in the byelection. Malcolmson is Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP.
“It will be interesting to see Mr. Harris defend the Liberal record over the last 16 years, it has been hard on Vancouver Island … it is going to be challenge for him to defend the impact on Nanaimo, but I look forward to the campaign,” she said.
Malcolmson said her party had heard lots of rumours about who the B.C. Liberals would announce, but didn’t know for sure until yesterday.
“His name had been mentioned before, but it wasn’t until last night that I had heard who was going to be announced by Wilkinson,” he said.