The traditional wisdom around byelections is that they aren’t generally kind to governing parties.
In the coming Jan. 30 byelection in Nanaimo, if voters are inclined to want to punish the government, it could result not only in an adjustment of seats, but in an upheaval. The B.C. NDP, propped up by the confidence of the Green Party, has managed to maintain power with the slimmest of minority governments. Depending what happens Jan. 30, the seat count could dwindle to a 40+3 to 43 stalemate with the speaker forced to vote.
There are no midterm elections in B.C. provincial politics, but this month’s byelection, in many ways, will come down to the parties presenting their progress reports through their own lenses and filters and letting the voters judge.
Sheila Malcolmson, former Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP and now the NDP’s candidate for Nanaimo MLA, said “if this election is a progress report, then we’ve got a really good story to tell,” and said the provincial government has gotten results that reflect its priorities.
“We’ve really got, for us in the region, a fantastic opportunity to catch up on the investments that were missed by the B.C. Liberals in, I would argue, a mean-spirited way, looking after their wealthy corporate friends, focusing on tax cuts, instead of the deep investments in health care, child care and affordable housing that we’re seeing already,” Malcolmson said.
Tony Harris, candidate for the B.C. Liberals, mentioned that while byelections often don’t go well for governing parties, “this is a very unique situation” and precedent only means so much.
He said whether people vote to support the current government or vote another way, that’s “the beauty of democracy” and that’s up to them, but he hopes people will recognize the opportunity that the byelection represents.
“What Nanaimo has a unique opportunity to do is demonstrate, through voting, that our city is changing, has changed; we aren’t just always going to vote the same way,” Harris said. “Everybody knows the track record of voting NDP in Nanaimo, but as a result of that – and this isn’t anybody’s fault – it’s just that because we always do the same thing, all parties take us for granted, whoever’s in power.”
Asked if the current government is working for British Columbians, Green Party candidate Michele Ney said yes and no. She said the Greens are frustrated with a number of decisions on environmental files, namely LNG and Site C, but encouraged by progress in some other areas and “important changes.”
“I was actually quite surprised how quickly some of those changes have occurred, and I attribute that to the Greens and how they can collaborate and work in a consensus manner with all other parties,” she said.
Another pair of hands in the Green caucus would make a difference, she said, for example with greater representation on committees.
Jan. 30 might be a chance for Nanaimo to look back over the last year and a half and punish the government or it might be a chance to indicate confidence. Of course, this byelection isn’t just about what’s happened so far – it’s also about what’s to come, and our expectations of candidates who are new to provincial politics, and what they’re promising.
A lot of us will probably vote for the candidate and/or party we like best, and when we do so, we’ll be confronted with the ramifications. I hope we go to the ballot box wanting what’s best for Nanaimo and at the same time wanting what’s best for British Columbia.
We have the rest of this month to decide what that looks like and what that means.