Analysis: A smooth transition for B.C. NDP in Nanaimo byelection

Blow to B.C. Greens, John Horgan’s hold on power remains slim

The B.C. NDP’s win in the Nanaimo by-election stabilizes their hold on a minority government at the B.C. legislature, maintaining the status quo two-vote edge that emerged after the 2017 election.

The result in Nanaimo is a considerable setback for the B.C. Greens, who ran an aggressive campaign and still lost more than half of their 2017 share of the vote. Their current three Vancouver Island seats are a high-water mark for the party, which captured 17 per cent of the vote province-wide and saw that fall to about seven per cent in Wednesday’s by-election.

The B.C. Liberals increased their vote share compared to the 2017 election, where Nanaimo was won handily by NDP incumbent Leonard Krog, whose decision to run for mayor triggered the by-election.

Aside from the B.C. Liberal near-wipeout win in 2001, the NDP has held Nanaimo since 1971. But the slam-dunk scenario for the NDP in Nanaimo is overstated, especially in a by-election.

RESULTS: NDP’s Malcolmson takes nearly 50 per cent of Nanaimo vote

Former premier Christy Clark’s 2013 win after an arranged vacancy in Kelowna West is a rare example of a governing B.C. party holding a by-election, the first since 1981. And that was with a sitting premier running in a traditionally solid B.C. Liberal seat.

The NDP took by-elections in Chilliwack as well as Port Moody-Coquitlam before giving them back to the majority B.C. Liberals the 2013 general election. Their Nanaimo win Wednesday reverses a long trend against sitting governments in the protest votes that often define by-elections.

In the most recent indication of support before Wednesday, Nanaimo residents voted 54 per cent against proportional representation. Even Premier John Horgan’s Juan de Fuca constituency only narrowly supported the referendum last fall, despite Horgan’s NDP pushing hard for a yes vote.

In the 2015 federal election, Malcomson took about a third of votes to win the Nanaimo-Ladysmith seat relatively narrowly. With turnout of more than 70 per cent, the Liberal and Conservative candidates were nearly tied with about 22 per cent each.

Horgan’s hold on power isn’t immediately threatened, even with the loss of a seat. The next critical “confidence” vote is likely to be on Finance Minister Carole James’ spring budget, and it may be a year before there is another vote that puts the NDP minority on the line.


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