Local issues outweigh provincial balance of power in Nanaimo byelection

Nanaimo's key Jan. 30 byelection could spark a major shift in the balance of power at the B.C. Legislature, but according to both voters and candidates, it's local issues that will likely determine the outcome at the polls.

Voters tell CBC's Mike Killeen they're looking for solutions to city problems like housing and health care

Although it's seen as a long shot, it's possible Nanaimo's Jan. 30 byelection could shift the balance of power in the B.C. Legislature — but according to voters and candidates, it's local issues, not politics, that will likely determine the outcome.

"We're working really, really hard in staying focused on what matters in Nanaimo, and not the provincial implications of the election," said B.C. Liberal candidate Tony Harris.

The NDP has held the riding, where there are 45,359 registered voters, for 13 of the last 15 elections. If the Liberals managed to score a win on Wednesday, they would be deadlocked with the NDP-Greens at 43 seats each in the legislature.

CBC Vancouver News at 6 co-host Mike Killeen visited Nanaimo to to talk to voters about what matters most to them.

He found strategic voting and the political implications of the byelection aren't as important as issues like housing affordability and health care.

CBC's Mike Killeen talks to voters in Nanaimo about what matters most to them

He asked voters about balancing local issues and the implications the byelection could have on the makeup of the provincial legislature. 1:23

NDP candidate Sheila Malcolmson is confident her party's track record can help it hold on to the seat left vacant by her predecessor, Leonard Krog, who stepped down after winning the city's mayoral race. 

"[Voters] recognize some of the work we've been able to do in a year-and-a-half [in power] to build back better supports," Malcolmson said.

B.C. Liberal candidate Tony Harris speaks with a small group of voters during his campaign. (CBC)

Alex Netherton, a political scientist with Vancouver Island University, says while provincial governments in the past may not have paid enough attention to Nanaimo, that seems to have changed.

"There is a lot of ribbon-cutting going on," he said.

Riding spending

In December, the province made two separate announcements, days apart, about safe homes for women and children fleeing violence and supportive housing for homeless people.

In November, Health Minister Adrian Dix announced a $34 million plan to overhaul the intensive care unit at Nanaimo General Hospital.

In July, there was an announcement for 150 new affordable rental homes for seniors

"So obviously, some public money is going to some really strategic and symbolic matters," said Netherton.

Netherton says one issue that could hurt the NDP is the fact that Krog, despite his popularity and competence as an MLA, never received a cabinet post.

"So that was a little bit of a snub to Nanaimo," he said.

NDP candidate Sheila Malcolmson speaks with seniors in the city during her campaign. (CBC)

Both of Malcolmson's major challengers agree they are running, in part, on the perceived lack of investment in Nanaimo.

"One of the reasons I'm running is because Nanaimo's been neglected for decades," said Green candidate Michele Ney.

Alex Netherton, a political scientist at Vancouver Island University, says voters in Nanaimo are focused on local issues but realize their vote could have an impact on the future of who will govern the entire province. (CBC)

The key message in Liberal Tony Harris's platform suggests the city has been taken for granted in past elections and, if elected, he would help Nanaimo get "its fair share."

Political analyst Netherton says it's an interesting message considering the B.C. Liberals were in power for 16 years in B.C. until the 2017 election.

"That question of time for a change from the Liberal point of view may be a little bit of fruit that is not yet ripe," he said.

His advice for candidates is to pay close attention to voters in the riding.

"It's all on the street. It's all on the street," he said. "The campaign is on the ground."

With files from Mike Killeen

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