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In Nanaimo, a very civil civil war

The mayoral election with the highest possible stakes has divided one party

When NDP MLA Leonard Krog announced his decision to run for mayor of Nanaimo, political strategists – both professional and armchair – sharpened their pencils.

The thinking is a series of “ifs.”

  • If Krog wins, he must resign as MLA, and the NDP will have six months to call a byelection.
  • If the NDP lose that byelection – specifically to the BC Liberalsthings start getting interesting.
  • If any member of the NDP (or Greens) can’t make it in time for a confidence vote – or if the Speaker decides to break convention and vote against government in a tied confidence vote – the government will automatically fall.
  • If-with-an-asterisk the heavily rumoured recall campaign against Speaker Darryl Plecas succeeds, the NDP or Greens will (probably, but we said that last time) have to choose a Speaker from among their ranks, and then there’s no tie to break.

It’s a lot of ifs. And there’s plenty of cold water to pour, not least of which is the NDP’s sterling electoral record in the riding, or that the only two mandatory annual confidence votes (Throne and Budget, respectively) could happen before the byelection is even called, much less won or lost.

That said, underpinning all those ifs is basic math: the minority NDP government has a razor-thin margin in the legislature, and can ill afford to risk losing a byelection, even in a seat as historically safe as Nanaimo – because sitting governments rarely win byelections.

Those are the stakes – which has caused a rift in local BC Liberal circles.

One camp wants a free enterprise mayor of Nanaimo, rallying around Don Hubbard, a former chair of the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) and Malaspina University College, and a prominent figure in local BC Liberal circles.

While there are no political parties in Nanaimo civic politics, for all intents and purposes Hubbard is the de facto BC Liberal candidate – or so you’d think, until you look at some of Krog’s supporters.

Among them is Mike Hunter, who has impeccable BC Liberal credentials, including a stint as MLA.

As he puts it, he’s the only one who’s ever defeated Krog in Nanaimo, in 2001. (Krog won the rematch in 2005, and every election since.)

As Hunter concedes, his presence on Krog’s team hasn’t gone unnoticed by conspiracy-minded NDP supporters – especially since Hunter was instrumental in convincing Krog to run.

“Nanaimo isn’t 'the first domino' – the focus is Nanaimo,” says Hunter.

According to Hunter, Krog is well aware of the concern, but reassures loyal supporters that Nanaimo is an NDP seat, and there’s no reason to think it won’t remain so.

One person who wishes Hunter wasn’t working for his old opponent is Jack Doan, Hubbard’s campaign manager – and Hunter’s lifelong friend.

Doan is a veteran BC Liberal campaigner who has worked for candidates and MLAs such as Ron Cantelon, Michelle Stilwell, and Paris Gaudet, the party’s Nanaimo candidate in 2017.

“You’ll never hear me badmouth Leonard; he’s a decent person,” says Doan.

“But when you compare their resumes, Leonard just doesn’t have the same experience getting things done. I think any fair-minded person would pick Don Hubbard over Leonard Krog.”

Hunter touts Krog’s experience and credentials, but isn’t blind to the larger picture.

“Even if the BC Liberals do win the byelection, that doesn’t bring down the government – it’s not the end of Horgan,” says Hunter, “that’s months down the road.”

Hunter denies he’s considering anything but his city's next mayor. “It’s not about the balance of seats in the legislature, but balance and progress in Nanaimo.”

For his part, Doan is adamant that not only is Hubbard the right man for the job, but that talk about a byelection and bringing down the NDP government is a distraction at best, and useless at worst.

“I’ve heard about it (supporting Krog to bring down the government) from many of my friends,” says Doan, “but I don’t know what they’re thinking over there. We’re not ready.”

“Nanaimo is a strong NDP town. In order to win, (the BC Liberals) need a two, three, four-year effort.”

“Right now, we have a poor organization, very little volunteer base – and no money,” says Doan.

No matter who wins, both camps agree the new mayor has a lot of work ahead of them; Nanaimo’s city hall woes have been well documented. But politics aside, this disagreement has strained longstanding friendships.

“Mike has been my friend for 25 years,” says Doan, “we hike together, have spent time in Arizona together. But we haven’t been able to socialize.”

For his part, Hunter says he hopes they go right back to shaking hands and enjoying each other’s company – and, if he gets his way, campaigning together in the very near future:

“I expect we’d work together on the byelection.”

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca