May 4, 2019 6:08 pm
Updated: May 6, 2019 8:11 pm

Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection 2019 cheat sheet: A last-minute voter’s guide

WATCH: Days from the federal byelection vote Monday, the city of Nanaimo is getting some more national attention with two party leaders hitting the campaign trail with a last minute message. Richard Zussman reports.

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It is rare to have a byelection so close to a general election.

That is why the Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection on Monday, May 6, is shaping up to be a litmus test for four of the parties that currently have MPs in Ottawa.

WATCH: (Aired March 24) Nanaimo-Ladysmith federal byelection is called for May

The NDP is working to hold on to the seat. Candidate Bob Chamberlin, a well-known First Nations leader, is aiming to replace former MP Sheila Malcolmson, who stepped down as an MP to serve as the NDP MLA for Nanaimo in Victoria.

A recent newspaper ad for Chamberlin featured pictures of B.C. Premier John Horgan, but none of federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. The byelection will be a test to see whether the Singh-led NDP can hold onto a seat they are expected to win.

The Green Party of Canada has targeted Nanaimo-Ladysmith as a potential pick-up. Candidate Paul Manly finished fourth in the riding in 2015, but still garnered nearly 20 per cent of the vote.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May is looking for company in Ottawa, and this will be the last chance before the federal election in the fall.

The Conservative Party of Canada has historically done well in the northern part of Nanaimo, and candidate John Hirst is expecting to continue that trend. What could plague the party is the ability to pick up votes elsewhere in the riding.

A byelection victory would be a huge boost to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, and would show an opportunity to pick up seats from the NDP or the Liberals in the federal election.

This is the first time anyone has gone to the polls since Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott were thrown out of the Liberal caucus and told they couldn’t run for the party in the fall.

Michelle Corfield, the Liberal candidate, insists the SNC-Lavalin affair and the fallout have not been an issue on the doorstep. But voters often tell candidates one thing and react differently when they mark their ballots.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the byelection, and a poor result would lead to chatter about his possible struggles in October.

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With so many factors at play, voters are left with a unique challenge. Will they vote the way they always have? Or will they take a chance on something new, knowing that if the result is less than desired there is a chance for a mulligan in the general election?

READ MORE: Trudeau sets May date for federal byelection in Nanaimo-Ladysmith

If you find yourself trying to figure out what stands out from the candidates — whether you don’t have time to comb through all of the promises or are struggling to cut through the noise — don’t panic.

Global News has prepared a straightforward breakdown of who the candidates are, what’s at stake and where they stand on some big policy issues.

Why are we here

The pieces continue to fall from Leonard Krog’s decision to step down as Nanaimo’s MLA to become the city’s mayor.

After Krog jumped from Victoria to city hall, Sheila Malcolmson quit her job as Nanaimo-Ladysmith’s MP to successfully run as Krog’s replacement.

READ MORE: NDP retains grip on power as Sheila Malcolmson wins Nanaimo byelection

The game of dominoes led to the federal seat opening, and even though he didn’t have to call the byelection so quickly, Trudeau announced in March Nanaimo would go to the polls on May 6.

Malcomlson argued during the provincial campaign that the seat could remain vacant until the general election, but Elections Canada and the prime minister’s office were of a different mind. The new MP will serve in the role until the general election, when the seat will be up for grabs once again.

Recent riding history

Malcolmson was the first-ever MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith. Before the 2015 federal election, the electoral boundaries were significantly redrawn and the ridings of Nanaimo-Alberni (historically Conservative) and Nanaimo-Cowichan (historically NDP) were merged to form the new riding.

In 2015, the riding was the most interesting four-way race in Canada. Malcolmson won the seat with 23,651 votes (33.2 per cent), a nearly 7,000-vote victory over Liberal Tim Tessier.

Tessier’s 16,753 votes (23.5 per cent) left him just ahead of Conservative Mark Allen MacDonald’s 16,637 votes (23.4 per cent).

Manly, the only candidate running again, spent the most on the campaign but finished fourth with 14,074 (19.8 per cent), marking the fourth best finish for a Green candidate in Canada.

2015 Federal Election Results

NDP – Sheila Malcolmson, 23,651 votes, 33.2%
Liberal – Tim Tessier, 16,753 votes, 23.5%
Conservative – Mark Allen MacDonald, 16,637 votes, 23.4%
Green – Paul Manly, 14,074 votes, 19.8%

2011 Federal Election Results – Nanaimo-Alberni

Conservative – James Lunney, 30,469 votes, 46.42%
NDP – Zenaida Maartman, 25,165 votes, 38.3%
Liberal – Renée Miller, 4,984 votes, 7.59%
Green – Myron Jespersen, 4,482 votes, 6.83%

2011 Federal Election Results – Nanaimo-Cowichan

NDP – Jean Crowder, 31,272 votes, 48.90%
Conservative – John Koury 24,497, 38.31%
Green – Anne Marie Benoit 5,005, 7.83%
Liberal – Brian Fillmore 3,007, 4.70%

Getting prepared to vote

Polling stations will be open on Monday, May 6, from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. The hours are different than in municipal and provincial races, so be aware the doors will close at 8:30 p.m.

There have already been four days of advance polling with 9,004 electors casting votes, compared to 15,957 people that turned out for early voting in the 2015 federal election. Byelections typically have much lower voter turnout than general elections.

Nanaimo-Ladysmith doesn’t just include the communities of Nanaimo and Ladysmith. Lantzville is also in the riding, as well as some smaller communities surrounding the city of Nanaimo.

If you’re registered to vote, you should have received a voter information card by mail that tells you where to vote. If you haven’t registered yet, and you are eligible to vote, you can register at a polling station on Monday.

You can also find out where your polling station is based on your postal code by visiting Elections Canada.

The Candidates

Bob Chamberlin, NDP

As vice president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, Chamberlin is one of the most recognizable Indigenous leaders in British Columbia. This byelection marks his entry into partisan, electoral politics.

“I think the timing is one of the greatest factors, and opportunity arrived at the same time when there was an opening for the nomination,” Chamberlin said.

“When you look at this particular point in time and reconciliation has become a national issue now more than ever, we need as many First Nations voices in the House of Commons to guide the full embracing of the human rights of Aboriginal people in this country.

READ MORE: Bob Chamberlin nominated as NDP candidate in Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection

“I want to be able to bring my experience and skills to present the details in a matter that Canadians can understand and grasp,” he added.

Chamberlin raised his son as a single dad in Nanaimo.

As a First Nations Chief, Chamberlin made new, affordable housing units and better community health care a priority. He now lives in Ladysmith and his son lives in Nanaimo.

“I’m from here. This is my hometown. I have deep roots here with my son and I have a ton of political experience as a First Nations chief,” he said.

Jennifer Clarke, People’s Party of Canada

Clarke is one of the first people to be nominated for the People’s Party of Canada. The new party, led by Quebec MP Maxime Bernier, finished fourth in the Burnaby South byelection and is attracting voters who have historically cast a ballot for the Conservatives.

Clarke ran to become a school trustee last fall in Nanaimo and fell about 2,300 votes short. She tried to win the Conservative Party nomination in November and lost to John Hirst.

Michelle Corfield, Liberal Party

In the Liberals’ mind, Corfield is the party’s perfect candidate. She’s a First Nations leader who was raised in the community, served as chair of the Nanaimo Port Authority, and led the Save the Nanaimo Harbour campaign.

But Corfield is facing a unique election. The Liberals finished second in the 2015 general election and spent very little time focused on Nanaimo.

In recent months, Trudeau’s popularity has dropped following the SNC-Lavalin scandal. Corfield has been left touting her own personal successes, including work she did to prevent the Nanaimo Harbour from turning into a private yacht club.

“I believe in this city. I believe the issues we have in the city of Nanaimo need to be represented in Ottawa,” Corfield said.

“This harbour is the life blood of this community and keeping it public was incredibly important to me.”

John Hirst, Conservative Party 

With a two-year-old and a 6-month-old baby at home, Hirst is well aware this may not be the perfect time to enter politics. But as the local Sun Life Financial manager knows, sometimes opportunities come at interesting times.

“This is where I want to raise my children, and I look at the representation we have had and I have been frustrated with what has been happening,” Hirst said.

“I was also raised with, if you see a problem, do something about it. I want to make a difference for this community.”

The third generation Nanainomite only recently got involved in partisan politics and was drawn in after attending the party’s national convention. When asked about why he felt this was the right time to enter politics, he goes back to October 2017 when he father committed suicide.

Hirst says this tragic event led him to realize it was time for less talk and more action.

“You say you will it do it someday and someday never comes,” Hirst said.

“I took a look at it. I have always been committed to doing things for my community. This was the next step and I didn’t want it to go by.”

Jakob Letkemann, National Citizens Alliance of Canada

The link to Letkemann’s bio on his party’s website doesn’t work, which may be a reflection on how serious the party is for this byelection.

The National Citizens Alliance of Canada is pushing extreme views on immigration and registered as a political party with Elections Canada in January.

The party’s platform calls to reduce immigration levels.

Paul Manly, Green Party

If you are a voter in Nanaimo, you should recognize the Manly name. The Green Party candidate is the only byelection competitor who ran in the 2015 general election.

Manly finished fourth in the race, but he got the highest vote percentage of any fourth-place finisher in the country and was one of the most popular Green candidates in Canada.

This time, Manly is aiming to join sole Green MP Elizabeth May in the House of Commons.

“I think if an MP from another party is elected it’s status quo. We are the only party that has taken the climate crisis seriously,” Manly said.

Manly’s father Jim served as an NDP MP for Cowichan-Malahat-The Islands for eight years from 1980 to 1988. The younger Manly describes growing up in a home where social issues were often discussed.

On his eighteenth birthday, Manly was campaigning with legendary NDP politician Tommy Douglas to get his father elected.

“He (Douglas) was a man of principles and values, and I think on some of those principles and values he would be sorry to see what has happened to the party he used to love,” Manly said.

Manly himself attempted to get the NDP nomination before the 2015 federal election. He was denied by the party because of his stance on the Israeli-Palestine issue.

Brian Marlatt, Progressive Canadian Party

Marlatt previously ran for the little-known Progressive Canadian Party in South Surrey-White Rock. He is now living in the Lake Cowichan area.

Issues

Voter fatigue

For a majority of the eligible voters in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, this will be the fourth time they have been able to vote in the last seven months.

Fatigue is no doubt setting in for voters who have cast a ballot in the municipal elections, the electoral reform referendum, the provincial byelection and now a federal byelection.

Byelections historically have low voter turnout. Fatigue could be a factor in adding to that.

“Voter fatigue is something people are talking about” Chamberlin said. “But I believe we are going to have a good turnout.”

Mulligan election

Most times when you head to the polls you have to live with your decision for four years. That’s not the case this time in Nanaimo-Ladysmith.

Voters have a unique opportunity to try out a political candidate they maybe wouldn’t have thought to vote for before. If that candidate wins, they can try it out until October and decide then who they want as a more permanent MP.

Hirst makes the pitch that electing him would give Nanaimo-Ladysmith a seat at the table when the Conservative Party is building a platform.

“If I am in opposition for five months before our next election, that gives us a voice from Vancouver Island,” Hirst said.

Chamberlin sees this election as a chance to send someone to Ottawa who will send a message in the House of Commons every day.

“I have faith in the voters in this riding to realize that every time you go to the polls, it is not just an opportunity to exercise your democratic right but to … continue to outline the failings of the current Liberal government and that the Conservatives will do a worse job,” he said.

Leadership issues

An intense focus will soon shift to the federal leaders, if it’s not there already.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has gone through a rocky year, and many Canadian have lost faith in his “sunny ways” over the SNC-Lavalin issue.

Although Trudeau’s name isn’t on the ballot in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, Corfield has been forced to defend him and the government’s record.

“I have 100 per cent confidence in the prime minister,” Corfield said.

“I am just so extremely excited by the people who have visited me. I actually haven’t been asked much about SNC-Lavalin.”

WATCH: (Aired April 26) Latest Ipsos federal election poll shows shift in support

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is facing his own set of questions. The relatively new leader recently won his own seat in the House of Commons, but is still working to get his footing.

“I believe when there is a new leader at this level there is always going to be questions,” Chamberlin said. “I think now that people have seen (Singh) in the House of Commons the beliefs in his abilities are growing.”

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is still a relative unknown, especially in British Columbia. The Saskatchewan MP made one trip to Nanaimo-Ladysmith during the campaign.

Hirst says voters were first surprised by how tall Scheer was, and were then impressed by his message.

“When we had Andrew Scheer out here, he is committed to standing up for the West Coast and allowing us to have our voice in Ottawa,” Hirst said.

Affordability

There has been a seismic shift in British Columbia around what the most important political issue is. For a long time health care and the economy loomed largest, but recently affordability has replaced it.

All four major candidates listed it as the number one issue facing voters on the doorsteps. In each case it’s a mixed approach on how to deal with the issue.

Manly says affordability can’t be solved alone. Instead, there needs to be solutions to address a multitude of issues that contribute to the overall problem.

“Affordability is a huge issue and is causing a cascade of issues,” Manly said.

“People are ending up in housing camps. We have a mental health and addiction crisis in this community, and it is feeding criminality as well.”

The modular housing unit in Nanaimo and struggles with the previous homeless camp have been thorns in the sides of the municipal and provincial governments.

WATCH: Coverage of the Nanaimo homeless camp on Globalnews.ca

The city also has one of the lowest median incomes in the province. Hirst says addressing that issue and boosting up wages will address the overall issue of affordability.

“One side of the equation I feel is what I call the opportunity here. In Nanaimo-Ladysmith we have a low unemployment rate,” Hirst said. “The median income is $32,000, and we wonder why people have a hard time making ends meet.”

The NDP have promised to build 1,400 housing units in Nanaimo as part of a bigger strategy.

“By coming forward with a very concise and strong housing policy and plan, it is really going to help the economy here for good jobs and will also address the housing crisis,” Chamberlin said.

Trudeau’s Liberals swept to power in 2015 in part around promises to address affordability. This included major housing promises, improved transit and a commitment to childcare.

Corfield says the plan is working, including a decision to put power in the hands of each municipality.

“This government has decided for the first time in Canadian history to contribute directly to municipalities,” Corfield said. “We have a $40-billion housing strategy that covers the entire spectrum.”

Environment

Nanaimo is a coastal community, but unlike Vancouver and Victoria would not feel the same impact of an oil spill associated with the Trans Mountain pipeline. The pipeline itself has come in to play at some households, but is not the dominant issue.

Corfield was quick to point out the current federal government’s solution.

“I think we have a full spectrum approach. We have a climate change action plan,” Corfield said.

But Manly isn’t so sure the plan is the right way to address climate change. The Green Party has been highly critical of Ottawa’s decision to buy the pipeline and commitment to fund the expansion, even though there is significant opposition on the West Coast.

“The climate crisis is not being taken seriously. It is time for this government to step up and deal with this issue,” Manly said.

“I think electing a Green will send the message across the country that this issue needs to be taken seriously.”

Chamberlin is also questioning the Liberal plan, saying it’s not laid out in a way that will ensure Canadians are contributing.

Recently the NDP laid out a plan to provide financial support and loans repayable from savings for home energy retrofits.

“The pipeline issue is one that has come up time and again. But the real fundamental environmental issue with the green energy plan is that we actually need to have tangible steps to implement it,” Chamberlin said.

Hirst says he’s focusing on conservation projects and protecting waterways from sewage dumping when asked about the environment as an issue.

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