Jack Knox: A primer on Nanaimo byelection and on Island ridings in fall vote

Times Colonist

Nanaimo has an election infestation. The outbreak began with the local elections last October, when MLA Leonard Krog became mayor.

Then, in the provincial byelection to replace Krog as MLA, Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Sheila Malcolmson won.

That, in turn, begat a May 6 federal byelection to replace Malcolmson as MP. The winner will barely have time to figure out where the House of Commons washrooms are before the general election expected on Oct. 21.

That makes four campaigns that poor Nanaimo must endure in the space of a year. Only my dad could have handled that kind of election overload, and only then because the lawn signs gave him stakes for his tomato plants.

Here’s a brief look at who is lined up to run in the byelection and in Vancouver Island’s six other federal ridings this fall.


The NDP might be favoured in the byelection, but don’t expect a cakewalk. When Malcolmson took the seat in 2015, it was with just 33.2 per cent of the vote, the lowest percentage of any winner in B.C.

One of four people — Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs vice-president Bob Chamberlin, Malcolmson’s former assistant Lauren Semple, Maeve O’Byrne and Fred Statham — will be chosen as the party’s nominee March 30. (Note that when Chamberlin threw his hat in the ring last week, tweeting her cross-party-lines congratulations was Vancouver Island-raised Liberal MP/Trudeau headache Jody Wilson-Raybould, an old friend and colleague.)

The Liberal Party’s candidate will be another Indigenous woman, former Nanaimo Port Authority chairwoman Michelle Corfield, who campaigned with the prime minister along the Nanaimo waterfront on Sunday.

Financial manager John Hirst, 32, won the Conservative nomination over Jennifer Clarke, who then opted to run for the right-wing People’s Party of Canada, which was set up by Maxime Bernier after he lost the Conservative leadership race.

The Green Party’s Paul Manly, the son of former NDP MP Jim Manly, is running again after getting 20 per cent of the vote in 2015.


Incumbent New Democrat Murray Rankin is the only Vancouver Island MP who won’t run again this fall. There were rumblings that Ben Isitt would seek to replace him as NDP candidate, but that now seems unlikely. “I’m not ruling anything out, but it’s probably one electoral cycle too soon for me due to family obligations,” Isitt said. (It’s a long way to Ottawa from Vancouver Island for parents.)

Isitt’s Victoria city council ally Laurel Collins is the only nomination contestant to be approved by the NDP so far. Others are in the process of being vetted by the party. The nomination meeting will be in April.

Racelle Kooy, a community engagement specialist, was chosen by the Greens in February.

The Conservatives haven’t opened their nomination process yet. There’s no Liberal nominee yet, either.


Here’s a twist: David Merner, who placed second in the riding as a Liberal in 2015, will run as a Green this time. Already ticked off by Justin Trudeau’s about-face on electoral reform, Merner switched teams the day the prime minister bought the Trans Mountain pipeline. Merner and a Liberal-to-be-named-later will try to unseat New Democrat Randall Garrison, who was first elected in 2011. The deadline for those seeking the Conservatives’ nomination is today.

Saanich-Gulf Islands

Considering that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was the only Vancouver Island candidate to win a majority of votes — 54 per cent — in 2015, it’s unlikely that any of her opponents will go house-hunting in Ottawa. Still, they’ll have a message to get out. David Busch, a Saanich Peninsula lawyer and former registered nurse, will do so for the Conservatives. The Liberal and New Democrat slots are still open.


Rookie New Democrat MP Alistair MacGregor has yet to learn who his Green, Liberal or Conservative opponents will be.


First-term New Democrat MP Gord Johns of Tofino will be up against Parksville businessman Byron Horner, whose grandfather Ralph Horner served in the Senate for more than 30 years. No Green or Liberal candidates yet.

North Island-Powell River

Rachel Blaney (yet another rookie New Democrat MP) will be opposed by Conservative Shelley Downey, a four-term Port McNeill councillor, and the Comox Valley’s Mark de Bruijn, running for the Greens. No Liberal yet.