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Last week saw a major shift in local politics. After a few days of uncertainty due to the high number of special ballots and a tight three-way race for votes, the Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding results were finalized on Friday. NDP candidate Lisa Marie Barron came out ahead of Conservative candidate Tamara Kronis by about one thousand votes and incumbent Green MP Paul Manly by about 2,700.
Known locally as a popular documentary filmmaker, Manly’s political career officially began when he won a byelection as a Green Party candidate in May of 2019. That October he prevailed again in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding by a comfortable margin over the Conservative candidate (35 per cent and 26 per cent of votes, respectively).
It was an interesting couple of elections to watch, in part because they were politically significant—Manly was the second Green candidate, after Elizabeth May, to ever hold a seat in parliament. Until then, the Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding had typically voted NDP, with Sheila Malcolmson serving as MP for the party from 2015 to 2019 and prior to that, NDP MP Jean Crowder from 2004 to 2015.
So what changed? I decided to call up Mark Williams, professor and chair of Vancouver Island University’s political science department to hear his thoughts.
“I think that in Canadian politics you really can’t overestimate the centrality of the party leader for the support that party is going to experience. I really think that is the crucial piece to all of this,” he said.
“I don’t think that the public of Nanaimo really felt like Paul Manly had let them down as a member of parliament, I think that they got a little bit concerned about the dysfunction that was revealed going on within the Green Party and it caused a loss of support from him to the NDP.
Williams is referencing the controversy within the Green Party that erupted over a statement from leader Annamie Paul, the first Black and Jewish woman to lead a major Canadian party, calling for de-escalation and a return to dialogue in the height of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2021.
It resulted in Jenica Atwin, one of just three Green MPs in parliament, calling Paul’s comments “totally inadequate” and crossing the floor to join the Liberals in June. Atwin secured her seat in New Brunswick again this election.
Manly had already made his own position on the issue clear, tweeting in May that the events unfolding in East Jerusalem constituted “ethnic cleansing.”
It’s an issue the politician has a long history with: in 2015, Manly was denied the chance to run for the NDP over what he claims was his criticism of the party and their lack of support for his father Jim, a former Vancouver Island NDP MP.
In 2012, Jim Manly was aboard a ship attempting to take supplies and aid to Gaza when he was arrested, detained and later released by Israeli security forces.
On his website, Manly also endorsed an essay written by his chief of staff and former Israeli military intelligence officer Ilan Goldenblatt, in which he argued that criticizing Israel’s government is not antisemitism.
Just prior to this, Annamie Paul’s senior advisor, Noah Zatzman accused NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and other politicians, including Green MPs, of “appalling anti-Semitism” and discrimination on Facebook.
The Green Party’s federal council then passed a motion asking Paul to distance herself from Zatzman’s comments. When she refused to comply, it ultimately resulted in an attempt at a vote of non-confidence in her leadership. For her part, Paul said that she believed the attempts to push her out of the leadership role with the Greens were driven by sexism and racism.
Party unity is an incredibly important priority, says Williams, and the fact that much of this conflict played out publicly in the media dealt a heavy blow to the Greens, and in turn, affected Manly’s support locally.
“A lot of what happened never should have been revealed to the public when there is this schism within a party, especially with an election that we saw coming for a while there,” he says.
“They should have been using the very Canadian approach of quiet diplomacy in order to have these more frank and sometimes curt conversations, but to have them far away from the media and the public.”
Another general factor may have been low voter turnout, says Williams, though its effect on the election results is hard to quantify since turnout “wasn’t particularly overwhelming” in recent elections.
Elections Canada warned voters in advance that COVID-19 protocols, staffing shortages and reduced numbers of polling locations like schools would mean longer wait times at some polling locations, which may have driven some voters away.
So, has the riding returned to its roots as an NDP stronghold? Though Williams says it’s too soon to say for sure, the results of the election do sort of make sense given the history of the area.
“Even Paul [Manly]’s rise to political stardom within the Green Party, the origins of it are linked to his break with the NDP and coming over to the Greens and with that, he brought a number of NDP supporters over to the Green Party,” he says.
“I was certainly surprised that Paul [appears to have] lost. But on the other hand, it’s not necessarily a totally out-of-the-blue thing.”