Voters in Nanaimo-Ladysmith are sorting through promises of climate-change action, affordable housing and job creation as they head to the polls on Monday to elect a new representative in Ottawa.
It will be the third time since last October that residents have had to stand in a polling booth to mark ballots: in a municipal election, then a provincial by-election and now a federal by-election. Next up will be the general federal election expected this fall.
While the turnout for by-elections of any kind is low, candidates in Nanaimo are treating this campaign as a dry run and the Greens, in particular, are hoping it signals a change in the way Canadians regard the party.
Hamish Telford, a political scientist from the University of the Fraser Valley, expects the winning party will use the results to claim momentum going into the federal vote.
“I think it’s the NDP’s riding to lose,” he said.
“The NDP have had a bit of a wonky time of late, but Jagmeet [Singh’s] now got his seat in Parliament and if they hold on to this seat perhaps that will put to rest some concerns from voters that the NDP are a lost cause.”
Mr. Singh has campaigned in the riding with candidate Bob Chamberlin, a high-profile Kwakwaka’wakw leader who is vice-president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, the only Green with a seat in Parliament, is expected to be in the riding this weekend to campaign for Paul Manly.
John Hirst is the Conservative candidate. Michelle Corfield is running for the Liberals.
NDP party spokesman Glen Sanford said the race is between the NDP and the Conservatives.
Mr. Sanford said voters feel let down by Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and the many people who voted for the Liberals in the last election will express their disappointment by voting Conservative.
“We have a situation where many people are dissatisfied with the Liberal government,” he said.
“A lot of people voted Liberal last time and they got historic highs in the last election. People are disappointed and some people think the way to express that disappointment is to vote Conservative.”
The riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith was created in 2015 after electoral boundaries were redistributed. The 2015 election ended with the NDP’s Sheila Malcolmson taking 33.2 per cent of the vote. The Liberals came in second with 23.5 per cent, the Conservatives had 23.4 per cent of the vote and the Greens got 19.8 per cent.
But the Green candidate Mr. Manly, who also ran in 2015, said a federal government isn’t in the balance for this by-election.
“People have a real opportunity right now to send a message to the other parties that they’re serious about climate change, that they’re serious about issues like affordable housing, pharmacare, universal dental care,” he said.
The Greens are fresh off a provincial campaign in Prince Edward Island last month in which they were touted to have had a shot at forming government. When the ballots were counted, the party had won eight seats, a four-fold increase from its previous standings, and formed the Official Opposition.
But Prof. Telford said Nanaimo-Ladysmith has been a historically competitive riding and who wins will come down to the work politicians are doing on the ground.
While the Greens are attracting increasing numbers of voters across Canada, the NDP is a trusted political machine with significantly more resources, he said.
“The Green Party is the smallest, it has the fewest members, it has the least amount of money to develop sophisticated get-out-the-vote operations,” he said.
“And the other parties, but the NDP in particular, have been doing this for a long time and the NDP have lots of activist networks and union networks that can be used to get their voters out.”
Monday’s vote was triggered after Ms. Malcolmson left her federal post to run in a provincial by-election in the riding of Nanaimo, which she won with 50 per cent of the vote.