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Advanced voting is underway in Nanaimo, B.C., where a provincial by-election has the potential to alter the balance of power in the legislature between the governing New Democrats and the Opposition Liberals.

Advance polls will be open through Sunday and by-election day is Jan. 30.

Six candidates are running to replace former New Democrat Leonard Krog, who stepped down to successfully run for Nanaimo mayor.

The Vancouver Island seat is considered a New Democrat stronghold because the party has taken it 13 of the last 15 provincial elections.

Liberals are battling hard because a victory would give the party 43 seats, tying it with the 43 held by the New Democrat and Green alliance – Independent Darryl Plecas is currently serving as Speaker.

About 200 people turned out Monday night at the first all-candidates meeting to hear New Democrat Sheila Malcolmson, Liberal Tony Harris and Green candidate Michelle Ney discuss issues focusing on the economy and affordability.

Malcolmson told the gathering that housing and family issues are keys to building B.C.’s economy.

“The economy cannot prosper without people. You build affordable housing. You use the tools we have to bring housing prices down. We’ve made some progress but it’s going to take some time,” she said.

Harris called for big investments in the “institutional components” of the community, while Ney said better education – including investment in science, innovation and technology – would help youth become leaders in a new economy.

The tone of the meeting was respectful and the candidates are to meet again at a second forum on Thursday.

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