NANAIMO — With many pundits already declaring Nanaimo MLA Leonard Krog a lock as the city's next mayor, speculation is spinning about a looming byelection with the potential to topple B.C.'s minority government.
Krog officially confirmed his intention to run for mayor of Nanaimo earlier this week, saying he will resign his NDP-held seat in the legislature if his mayoral bid is successful. The scenario would lead to a byelection that, if the Liberals win, would leave the NDP-Green coalition in a tie for seats with the current opposition.
Former Liberal MLA and retired Vancouver Island University political science professor Allan Warnke called the NDP's hold on the Nanaimo riding "pretty safe." He said while the hype around the byelection potentially leading to an early election is a bit overblown, anything is possible.
"The stakes are pretty high in Nanaimo if there's a byelection and for that reason the whole province will be looking very, very closely," Warnke told NanaimoNewsNOW.
The NDP has dominated the mid-island riding for decades, winning four straight elections and only losing Nanaimo twice since 1963. After the Liberals closed the vote gap slightly in 2013, Krog soundly defeated Paris Gaudet by 3,800 votes in 2017. In fact, it was the Greens who saw the best growth in the riding, gaining nine per cent of the popular vote in 2017 compared to four years prior.
However, Warnke said several factors will create at least some drama around any potential byelection.
Firstly, governing parties traditionally struggle in the scenario. Since 1981, a sitting government has only won two byelections — both times the feat performed by Christy Clark who was the Premier on both occasions.
Secondly, Warnke said the Liberals already expressed an interest in throwing all kinds of money into the campaign and finding an ideal candidate.
"Someone who could perhaps penetrate into NDP support. It means having some sort of a high-profile candidate who is well-known. The Liberals would really have to up their game. They can see there's a possibility they could form government out of all this. It would be a high-profile campaign with a lot of excitement."
"With an unstable minority government propped up by three Green MLAs in the legislature, the implications of this byelection are significant for the entire province," Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson said in a statement.
"We look forward to offering the voters of Nanaimo a compelling choice."
The NDP's hands are also tied as to the candidate they can run in a potential Nanaimo byelection. Based on their party's constitution, the candidate must be a woman or a member of a disadvantaged group seeking equity or equality.
"Given the strength of the NDP in Nanaimo there's a fairly big field of very qualified and interested female candidates...I don't think it's going to be a problem," Warnke said.
Krog showed little concern for his likely-to-be former riding at his mayoral announcement.
"The reality is the Greens are largely happy with what's happening, the NDP voters are happy. The fact is people don't want to see the government fall...I don't think it's going to happen."
On Twitter: @domabassi
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