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British Columbia Crucial provincial by-election called in Vancouver Island’s Nanaimo riding

Premier John Horgan has called a long-awaited by-election that could challenge the delicate balance of his minority government.

A seat in the B.C. Legislature was vacated this fall after Leonard Krog, Nanaimo’s NDP MLA, was elected mayor of the Vancouver Island community. On Wednesday, Mr. Horgan called the vote for Jan. 30.

But while a potential Liberal win in the riding could have significant impact on party standings in the legislature, the riding has been a safe NDP seat for many years. In the 2017 provincial election, Mr. Krog won the riding with 46.5 per cent of the vote.

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A Liberal win would give the party, which governed the province for 16 years until 2017, 43 seats in the legislature compared with 43 seats held by the combined NDP and provincial Greens.

That would mean Darryl Plecas, the Speaker and a former Liberal now sitting as an independent, would have to vote to break ties.

“The stakes here are tremendously high,” said Sheila Malcolmson, the NDP candidate in the by-election.

“[The BC Liberals] have got the ability to bring the government down if they win and so they’re bound to throw everything they have got at this.”

Political scientist Hamish Telford says the coming vote in Nanaimo stands out since by-elections generally do not affect the fate of governments.

But in this case, there are two conflicting political dynamics at play, said Dr. Telford of the University of the Fraser Valley. On one hand, Nanaimo is reliably NDP. On the other, B.C. governments generally tend to lose by-elections.

Businessman Tony Harris, who is running for the BC Liberals, was acclaimed in November and said he is mindful of the political stakes with the by-election. He said the NDP has taken Nanaimo for granted when it has been in power and the Liberals regarded the community as an “impossible win” when they governed.

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“This is a chance for us to say we need a lot of investment in critical infrastructure, health care, education and child poverty,” he said.

He said that if Nanaimo goes Liberal, demonstrating that it is a swing town, it could generate more attention and investment from the province.

Mr. Harris, who said he was recruited by BC Liberals Leader Andrew Wilkinson, said the key to victory is an intense focus on Nanaimo issues.

Michele Ney, the daughter of former Nanaimo mayor Frank Ney, is running for the BC Greens.

Despite the NDP history in Nanaimo, Ms. Malcolmson said she is taking nothing for granted. “We are going to work really really hard until the final hour of this campaign,” she said.

Recruited by Mr. Horgan, the former Nanaimo-Ladysmith NDP MP has quit federal politics to run for the provincial party.

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She said the choice was remaining an opposition MP in Ottawa or being in a provincial government in British Columbia and working to enact change on affordable housing and environmental protection files that have been of interest to her.

Recent exits by NDP MPs have raised questions about caucus support for federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, but Ms. Malcolmson said she has supported him and continues to do so.

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