British Columbia

B.C. Votes 2017: Nanaimo riding profile

A look at Nanaimo, one of the 87 electoral districts in British Columbia.

The city has traditionally supported the NDP — but the B.C. Liberals are hoping for an upset

The riding of Nanaimo has traditionally been an NDP stronghold. (Elections BC)

In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Here is Nanaimo, one of 15 ridings on Vancouver Island — and one that has a long NDP history.

1. The B.C. Liberals hope that as Nanaimo evolves, so does its political culture. 

"I grew up in Nanaimo. I remember the days it was very resource-based, and very much a mill town. But that's changing," says Paris Gaudet, who was recruited by the B.C. Liberals to run in a riding in which they are underdogs.

"What I'm hearing from people in my riding is they want somebody in Victoria that represents the new Nanaimo, and where it's going in five, 10, 15 years ... I feel that Nanaimo has been missing a voice, and I'm honoured to be that voice. And it's winnable."

2. Nanaimo has traditionally been an NDP stronghold.

As Gaudet noted, the city has historically been known for its industrial, working-class roots, and the riding centred around downtown Nanaimo has gone to the NDP in 12 of the last 14 provincial elections, represented for much of that time by either David Stupich (1963-69, 1972-88) or current MLA Leonard Krog (2005-present).

And as a whole, Vancouver Island has tilted more and more toward the NDP: the party won 12 of 15 Vancouver Island ridings last election, their second highest percentage ever. 

3. However, there's evidence that Nanaimo could be a winnable seat for the B.C. Liberals. 

To start with, Krog lost support last election, going from 53.5 per cent of the vote in 2009 to 46.3 per cent in 2013, and only some of that went to the Greens: the Green Party candidate at the time only raised that party's total by two per cent. 

The Green's candidate this election is Kathleen Harris, a registered nurse and instructor at UVic.

Second, the city isn't monolithically NDP in its political affiliation — it broadly supported the Reform/Canadian Alliance in federal elections from 1993 to 2004, and the northern side of the city has always had strong levels of support for centre-right and right-wing parties. 

4.  A small tweak in the boundaries will also aid the B.C. Liberals.

Because the population of Nanaimo continues to grow relative to the rest of Vancouver Island, its boundaries shrunk in the last redistribution. The area between 4th and 5th Streets, just south of the downtown core, is now part of Nanaimo-North Cowichan, and those polling stations tended to heavily favour the NDP.

As a result, under the new boundaries, the NDP would have won this seat by 6.4 per cent — the closest NDP victory in Nanaimo since 1975, and close enough where the B.C. Liberals believe that nominating a strong candidate early could pay off.

5. Where does the NDP do well? 

Generally speaking, it does consistently well everywhere else, traditionally getting between 45 and 65 per cent of the vote through the heart of Nanaimo. And as a general rule, it does the best in the areas directly south and west of downtown.  

6. What about the Liberals? 

Any polling stations along the water on the northern side of the city, along with the subdivision immediately north of Linley Valley Cottle Lake Park, have tended to favour the party.       

7. Gaudet understands that history isn't necessarily on her side.

However, the tech entrepreneur and executive director of Innovation Island is hopeful that people in Nanaimo want a different dynamic with the provincial government going forward.

"We need good people stepping up. We need a strong voice for my community in Victoria. It's a really vibrant community, it's one of the fastest growing economies on Vancouver Island, it's a mecca of free enterprise, it's a young, vibrant city. And for me, I want to make sure the representation is authentically Nanaimo."