Nanaimo-Ladysmith: the most interesting race in BC

UPDATE: (11pm, October 18) This original post was published on Oct 15.  Events continue to evolve, including new national and BC poll results.  My take on the Nanaimo-Ladysmith race as of the 15th may have been overtaken by events.  Feel free to comment.

UPDATE: (10pm, October 17) Seeing lots of traffic via Facebook to this post.  I encourage visitors to leave comments if you agree/disagree with observations and add any ‘colour commentary’.  

Nanaimo-Ladysmith is the most interesting race taking place in BC.  It has not received as much attention as Vancouver and Victoria area ridings, but it is one of the few ridings that can claim to have a four-way race, with my definition being that four parties are in the 20% territory.

Nanaimo is known for its world-famous bathtub race. These bathtubbers intently discussing strategic boating.

There may be some dispute with the idea of a 4-way race, but let me explain.

  • It is a new riding with no incumbent
  • Until this election, the City of Nanaimo was previously split down the middle with the CPC representing the north end and NDP representing the south end
  • The Green candidate is the son of a former NDP MP and was rejected by the NDP based on his views on Israel-Palestine issues.  By many accounts, he is in contention and displayed a show of force when he hosted a September townhall of an estimated 1,000 attendees in Nanaimo
  • The Liberals have been poor fourths in recent elections and have the weakest organization, but in the not-to-distant-past routinely netted 20% – can Justin’s appeal extend the Liberal brand into a contender?  It may only take 26% to win (and in the recent Alberta election, an NDP MLA was elected with 29%).

Where is Nanaimo-Ladysmith?

It’s a new riding formed after the latest redistribution.  The City of Nanaimo (pop. 83,000) is included in its entirety along with outlying feeder communities of Lantzville, Ladysmith, Cedar, and Gabriola Island.  It’s a cohesive boundary that is a considerable improvement over the split ridings that had been the case for decades.

What’s the local flavour?

Olden days – employer/labour conflict in the coal mines that led to the election of Socialist candidates.  Today, the only physical remnants of King Coal are slack piles in the small community of Extension and on Transfer Beach in Ladysmith.  Yet a legacy of labour politics persists in South Nanaimo and some surrounding areas and pride remains that Tommy Douglas represented Nanaimo for a time.  Unionized forest workers are an important bloc but are not as plentiful today; there is a stronger public sector union base, including the head office of BC Ferry Union.

The labour politics dissipate as one travels north across the Millstone River which bisects Nanaimo – NDP votes  evaporate and Conservative votes flourish.  North Nanaimo votes BC Liberal provincially and Conservative federally.

Nanaimo also has growing population of retirees; it has a very strong retail and tourism sector, mostly non-unionized; and it has an underrated university – Vancouver Island University – which is a regional hub for employment, research, and a considerable First Nations enrolment.

There’s a lifestyle element with Gabriola Island and rural areas having an eclectic brew of artists, blue collar workers, country squires, and back-to-the-landers living not-quite cheek to jowl on their five-acre lots, but having the common talking point of well water and septic tanks.

The riding is a potpourri.

How did Nanaimo-Ladysmith vote in past elections?

Transposed onto the current boundaries, the results of previous elections were:

2006 2008 2011
NDP 40 38 45
CPC 34 38 40
LIB 18 14 7
GREEN 5 8 7

Based on electoral history, how can this be a 4-way race?

Good question!  Let’s start with the Greens.  As stated, the Green candidate Paul Manly is a serious candidate who has mounted a serious campaign.  When parties don’t mount serious campaigns, voters will abandon them as they don’t want to waste their vote.  This time, the Greens have a candidate who is funded, built a strong campaign team, and has his base excited.

Just so you know I’m not making this up, two strategic voting polls in September and October both have the Greens north of 20%.  The strategic voting brain trusts must be wincing that Paul Manly is upsetting their carefully constructed storyline.

What about the Liberal?  The Liberals had been in the midst of an inexorable decline on Vancouver Island since 2004.  The demographics of Nanaimo-Ladysmith are similar to other ridings in Canada that do elect Liberals but they have barely raised the flag in successive elections.  This time, the Liberals have a spring in their step.  They have the weakest organization in Nanaimo of the four campaigns but they have Justin Trudeau, and Justin compared to Michael Ignatieff and Stephane Dion is a major step up on Vancouver Island.  It is certainly conceivable that the Liberals could return to their traditional 20% level and possibly higher if voters catch a wave.  Those same strategic voting polls had Liberal Tim Tessier lurking at 17-18%, and that was before the latest ‘Liberal surge’.   Electoral politics in Canada is certainly chock-a-block full of surprise MPs (see Quebec 2011, Alberta 2015) and the Liberal chance rests on the Leader’s shoulders.  In a four-way race, as little as 26% could deliver victory.

The Main Event

NDP candidate Sheila Malcolmson is an experienced local politician, but not particularly high profile.  She’s not a City politician – she’s from the islands.  She follows popular incumbent NDP MP Jean Crowder who had very high personal support and name recognition.  From what I understand, Malcolmson is not a drag on NDP support, but she’s had to establish herself.

Conservative candidate Mark MacDonald is a true blue conservative. He was a longtime publisher of Vancouver Island’s business newspaper and more recently had served as editor of the Nanaimo Daily News.  He’s tenacious and straight forward.  A majority of voters won’t agree with him, but he’ll be quite happy with 35% thank you very much (or less as long as he’s first).  He’s the one candidate in the race that I know and I’m sure he’s working his tail off.

These two parties shared 85% of the vote in Nanaimo-Ladysmith in 2011.  This time, they both will see their share of the vote cannibalized.

The Greens will hurt the NDP candidate.  This makes sense intuitively and is also what I’m hearing anecdotally.  You can see it in the strategic polls too, even if they are only roughly accurate.

The Liberals will hurt the Conservative.  The rise in the Liberal vote coincides with drop in Conservative support.  The question is – how much?

The Conservative brand does not resonate on Vancouver Island as well as more populist right-wing brands.  In 1993, the Reform Party stormed this area and were re-elected in 1997 and 2000 (Canadian Alliance).  Clearly, provincial NDP voters were supporting Reform and the Canadian Alliance federally.  This type of cross-over appears less frequent now.  The Conservatives have retrenched into a narrower base while the NDP have reclaimed most BC NDP voters.  (NDP federal candidates do poorly when the BC NDP is in power – ie. 1974, 1993, 1997, 2000 elections; they do better as memories fade)

Strategic Voting

This is one riding where I question the proponents of strategic voting.  Yes, I get it, “STOP HARPER”.  That’s their point.  But here you have a Green candidate who is positioned for an historic breakthrough – isn’t that strategic?  Ends-justifying-the-means  tactical fights to win a seat in a close election is clearly understood as an objective, but it seems like strategic voting organizations are eating their young.  I’m not a Green supporter by any stretch but I relate to their situation – I was a Liberal in the dark days of the 1980s.  Manly is running against the odds.  If Manly does win, he’s a nationally-significant politician as one of maximum three Greens that get elected.

There’s no question that Manly’s candidacy is a boon to the Conservatives.  I don’t think they would have a chance without it.  While the Liberal gain is coming at some expense to the Conservatives, those votes were likely lost to the Conservatives anyway in this election.  Three parties might be fighting over upwards of 70-75% of the votes while the Conservatives have a hard core.  They need that core to be in the high 20s to have a chance and likely over 30%.

The Upshot – my unscientific guess

My sense is that the race today is (1) NDP; (2) CPC; (3) GREEN; (4) LIB but that less than 15% separates 1 to 4.  NDP are likely leading at this point and probably a little above 30%; the Liberals are probably pushing 20%, with CPC and Greens in the mid 20s.  The Green factor is a huge wildcard.  Voters like having MPs and MLAs that are seen to “make a difference” and stand out.  Once a tipping point is reached, voters can defy convention as we saw in Oak Bay-Gordon Head and Delta South provincially, and Saanich-Gulf Islands federally.  That tipping point would typically be reached late in the campaign, but I’m not sure Manly has reached it.

Feedback from the Street

Don’t take my word for it.  I put a request out to friends who live in the riding and asked them to give me their ranking and whatever insights they would like to share.   Here are some comments – and of course, my friends are completely unrepresentative of the population, but they follow politics and were giving honest views.  Their comments represent a contradictory mix of assessments and judgments, and reflect why I find this the most interesting race in BC.

I have witnessed a tremendous amount of people from across the political spectrum rallying behind the Green banner….with a sizeable portion of what I understood as traditional NDP’s working on the local Green campaign. However, Sheila is doing very well and running a strong campaign with still a large army of volunteers.

None of these parties are taking votes from the CPC, only from each other, and I doubt too many LIBs or GRNs will strategically vote NDP – these people want to vote LIB or GRN.  I’m not sure the same is true for N-Dippers – I think they’re more likely to lose votes to Libs and Green, giving the win to CPC.

I think the Green factor is certainly real…they have run an impressive campaign. Paul Manly has been very active and visible. They’ve been everywhere with signs, social media ads and movies theatres – their graphic novel short was hilarious. Not sure this will result in a win, but I think they will be rewarded with support from unlikely corners.  Not surprisingly, many NDPers are quite unhappy about this fact – hostile even – as they feel they should easily win the riding. I still think they will prevail at the end of the day but not without bitterness.

None of the candidates appear to have much community profile, the NDP and Greens have had the best sign coverage. The Conservatives are getting a lot of vandalism and they seem slow making repairs.

The Greens appear to have a good candidate and strong appeal in this riding.  I have been somewhat surprised by the folks from various backgrounds that have indicated they are voting Green.

I strongly suspect Green rally drew people from all over the Island to show support in a winnable riding. Greens have more lawn signs on private property than NDP.  Not the biggest sign war. CPC seeing a lot of sign damage.  I haven’t seen a Liberal sign on private property.  Some Green supports I think will chicken out at last minute.  Conservatives will be quiet until ballot box

All four parties have a strong external presence, however, the NDP seems to have the most yard signs.

I attended the All Candidates Forum last week in Ladysmith.  Afterwards I discussed the performance of the various candidates, with others who attended.  There seemed to be a consensus… the NDP were first, followed closely by the Green, then followed by the Liberal, and the Conservative was at the bottom.

I attended an all candidates meeting and was really impressed with the Liberal candidate. More than I thought I would be. However, Green and Orange appear to be running neck and neck. Manly has had some impressive public events and very public shows of support, but you can never discount (as you know better than anyone) the Pavlovian response of the dippers on election day.

I have to say that I think the Justin factor is not in play to any extent and I do not see the emergence of a four way race. Nor indeed do I see a three way race.

This election is interesting here in Nanaimo, having a good feel for this town it will be between Paul and Sheila. We all know this is NDP country but the way the NDP handled the Manly nomination, many have jumped ship to Green. Federal Liberals have not appeared to have made much noise and [the Conservative] is guilty by association re to Harper. I have heard more chatter around Sheila and Paul but would say NDP will narrowly defeat Green and distantly followed by Libs then Conservatives.

It is clear that the NDP is clinging with its fingernails to its traditional base with a weak candidate.  So I think the battle is between Manly and MacDonald, with MacDonald likely to win because of the Green/NDP split.  As per provincial politics, conservative strength lies in North Nanaimo and in Saltair.   I think the Liberal candidate is a pleasant guy, and he seems to have more money and organization than previous candidates, but he is ploughing a tough row here. So in summary, my prediction is CPC/Green/NDP/Lib/Leninist Marxist (how could you forget him?)

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10 Comments

  1. Have you broken into Tilray in Nanaimo!? NDP would win?!? Clearly my friend you have been taking advantage of the lax medicinal marijuana laws and safe injection sites of our country. CPC voters are going where with their votes? Liberal? HA! HA! Justin maybe a contender in Canada and win … BUT here on Vancouver Island … ON VANCOUVER ISLAND … he is a punk! A PUNK you hear me? CPC votes will stay close to home. There may not be a big sign presence with Conservatives but that’s because normal law-abiding citizens are afraid of the sign damage that drug fueled NDPers and Quinoa gobbling Greens are doing to signs. NO RESPECT!
    CPC will will win!! hear me? Put your latte down And read this: CPC will win! Green and NDP fight for number 2 and Liberal will demolish the Marxist Leninist for fourth place send those commies back to the dust bin of history – thank you Mr Trotsky. (i bet he still regrets asking room service for more ice.)

    I am surprised Harper did hang with Rob Ford. I thought ankle bracelets interfered with wireless mics. Maybe just my experience

    What real undecided people go to all candidate meetings as undecided? Who? Name that person. Why was he allowed out? here in Nanaimo people go to all candidate meetings for the same reason people go to NASCAR races: What is the newest style in belt buckles and hopefully see a wreck. Sad but TRUE!

    Didn’t a tree fall in Stanley Park recently? Don’t you need to organize a big fundraiser for it.

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    1. I found your remarks offensive. I don’t do drugs and I do not eat quinoa. Please do not pigeon hole voters into inappropriate stereotypes.

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  2. Notwithstanding the typical myopic bluster of my Tory predecessor on this board, I have to disagree with a couple of your council of elders. I gave Manly a chance to tell me why I, a lifelong Greenie, shouldn’t vote strategically this election. He’s a great candidate, but his answer was not compelling. So … no, it would not be ‘strategic’ to have a great Green candidate sitting in Harper’s house; Harper ignores the majority of the eligible electorate and international condemnation of his policies. Why would Manly have influence. Harper has to go, so I’m voting for the candidate who’s party has the best chance get it done.

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  3. I would say the only thing missing in this article is why Mark MacDonald is no longer the editor of the Nanaimo Daily News and it’s kind of a big thing. Thinking it’s acceptable to publish letters racist against aboriginal people, oddly enough not in his biography. This was so egregious is created protest by aboriginal people and non aboriginal people alike. When I think of MacDonald it’s all I can think about.

    Also “He’s the one candidate in the race that I know and I’m sure he’s working his tail off.” He’s actually been ducking interviews with the media (I know that for a fact) and debates because he knows that people are only going to ask him about it. It would be one thing if this was done decades ago but it was 2 years ago. It’s so recent it’s to the point that it makes no sense that the Conservatives even vetted him, unless they have no issue with that. It’s bad enough that a lot of people consider the Conservative party to be a “racist party” with the whole Niqab debate, the treatment of aboriginal issues as a whole, Bill C-24, the Syrian immigrant debate, “old stock Canadians”, Surrey’s Dianne Watt’s “Fear Mongering” flyers, the list sadly goes on and on, but this guy is your candidate? What were they thinking? Personally I almost think they already figured the riding was either going to the NDP or Green so it didn’t matter.

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  4. “I strongly suspect Green rally drew people from all over the Island to show support in a winnable riding.”

    More than 1000 people attended the Green Party town hall meeting for Nanaimo-Ladysmith on Sept. 8th. The event was not promoted in other areas of the island and no call was put out to draw supporters from other ridings. So while there may have been a few people from outside Nanaimo-Ladysmith, the overwhelming majority were locals.

    How do I know this? I know this because I am the person who was in charge of all the advertising and promotion for that event.

    I feel it’s important to set the record straight, because this is not the first time I’ve seen this assertion. As much as some would like to try to diminish the surging support for Green Party candidate Paul Manly, their efforts are being frustrated by the reality on the ground here.

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  5. This is a well written and researched article. Hard for people to wrap their heads around the green party winning. The stakes are too high we can not elect an MP to represent the billionaire class. That is why I predict the strong volunteer power of the green party will prove all the doubters wrong. I hear they have raised more money than any other in Nanaimo’s history! That should make the old boys blush!

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  6. I agree that “voting Green is strategic”. If Nanaimo/Ladysmith goes Green there is a chance our riding would have great influence in a minority government. I find the Green closer to the centre than the NDP and have wise, balanced policies. Paul has,by far, more knowledge about world issues.

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  7. Reading this again a few days after the election – you really nailed it with all parties having at least 20%. Ya just wrote it a bit too early to have national momentum move the Liberals up in the final order. Hope you keep blogging, though maybe at a pace that is more compatible with your lifestyle. Do you do music too? Ha.

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