NANAIMO — The final push from candidates in the Nanaimo riding byelection took a more aggressive turn at the first all candidates debate.
The crowd was loud and vocal during the debate at the Beban Park Social Centre Thursday night, cheering or jeering depending whether BC Liberal candidate Tony Harris or BC NDP candidate Sheila Malcolmson had the mic.
The first major show of support, more than the normal clapping after a candidate answered a question, followed Harris criticizing Malcolmson for allegedly disparaging the BC Liberals and exaggerating the BC NDP's accomplishments.
“You can't built a strong economy in 18 months,” he said to even louder cheers but a wave of “boos” from Malcolmson supporters.
His comments seemed to spark something in the crowd, who became increasingly louder throughout the night.
It peaked with a verbal sparring match between Harris and Malcolmson over recently announced funding for a new intensive care unit at Nanaimo's hospital and more classrooms for Hammond Bay Elementary.
Harris alleged he was a fundamental force behind both developments and claimed the BC NDP government only made their funding decisions as part of the byelection campaign after he mentioned it.
“Byelections don't change policy like that,” Malcolmson rebutted to the largest negative response she received during the night.
The tone quickly switched only moments later as her supporters were roused by her comments accusing the BC Liberals of letting Nanaimo's chronically overburdened hospital languish for years.
The sparring between the two was a change from the fairly civil first weeks of the campaign. Some similar comments were made at a candidate meeting earlier in the week but not with such force or to such a loud response.
The back-and-forth between Harris and Malcolmson didn't dominate the entire hour of debate.
All six candidates running in the Nanaimo riding byelection faced questions about how the real estate speculation tax is being implemented, if they'd support a private business seeking provincial funds for a fast ferry and how to mitigate concerns about new supportive housing in Nanaimo.
NanaimoNewsNOW will have candidate profiles in coming days with answers submitted by the candidates to the questions which matter to Nanaimo residents.
Advance voting continues until Jan. 27 with election day on Jan. 30.
On Twitter: @spencer_Sterrit
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