Headshot of Sheila Malcolmson

The ballots have been counted, and Sheila Malcolmson is expected to return to her position as the MLA for the Nanaimo district.

Although many mail-in and absentee ballots are still to be counted, Malcolmson finished election night with 52.8 percent of the vote.

Malcolmson was elected as the MLA for the Nanaimo district back in 2019.

In a phone call interview, Malcolmson discussed with what campaigning during a pandemic is like, her plans on working with the Snueymuxw First Nations, staunching the rising homeless rates, and confronting the opioid crisis.

Lauryn Mackenzie (LM): So how does it feel to be re-elected?

Sheila Malcolmson (SM): It’s a big honour, and I love our community, and I love the coast, and I’m really determined to keep fighting for them. At the same time, because Elections BC hasn’t read the official call, and because we didn’t have like the victory party, and the whole campaign was so different from any other election that I’ve been in—honestly, it feels a little bit unreal. But I’m really excited about what’s ahead. It’s a really strong result, and there’s so much work for us to do. I’m really keen to dive back into it.

LM: As this is your second time running for the MLA position in the Nanaimo region, how did this election compare to the last one?

SM: It was completely different. I mean, because that was a by-election where the future of the whole government was at stake. I was the only one running. We had 1000 volunteers from all over the province, the premier was in and out of the riding every week it seemed. Every day, our campaign office had hundreds of people coming through, we knocked on thousands of doors. It was a really huge people-powered movement.

This time, we had a maximum of five people allowed in the office at any time. Everybody had to be wearing their masks. I wasnt even really invited to be in the office very much of the time. So I did a lot of phone calls from my home. We didnt knock on doors at all, it was just everything about the campaign was different.

LM: How did it feel campaigning this year without being able to do in-person things like door-to-door knocking, and in-person events?

SM: I really miss the human energy, we’re a people-powered movement, the NDP. We’re investing in people and it’s for the benefit of the people. So this boost that I would get ordinarily by like knocking on someone’s door, and a parent opens it up with a kid on one hip, and they say, ‘We know who you are, we know what you’ve done for us on childcare, our family has $700 more in our pocket every month because of your childcare fee reductions, and we finally got a childcare space because you created 700-plus new childcare spots in Nanaimo. We will take a lawn sign; we’re voting for you.’…

So, we had to create that energy in totally different ways, and our volunteers especially just really innovated on how to have those conversations and still hear from people what was important to them.

LM: This will be the first time that the BC NDP party will have a majority government in more than 20 years. Why do you think British Columbians now want a majority NDP government?

SM: I think really the message that I heard from voters was that they wanted us to keep helping people feel safe and secure through the pandemic. And they wanted us to invest in health care and social services.

Thats what wed already been doing. They wanted to see more, not less. And the alternative with the BC liberals … had given tax holidays for the wealthiest people. They were helping the people that didnt need any more help. And the cost of that, in the 16 years of BC Liberals … slashed services, whether that was foster care, 9000 health care workers were laid off—mostly women. The single greatest layoff of women in BC’s history was because of … the BC Liberals.

LM: What changes or new projects/campaigns are you looking forward to working on now that the government will be a majority?

SM: I mean two of the really obvious and quick ones are things that we weren’t able to get done in the previous parliament because we didn’t have the support of the greens, they supported us on tons of stuff … this is not a complaint, but we weren’t able to implement $10 a day childcare, we did childcare in a different way, but that’s something we can do now.

LM: Okay so you recently tweeted about wanting to pick up groundbreaking work with the Snuneymuxw First Nations. I was wondering if you could go into a bit of detail about what this work is and what steps you will be taking to complete it?

SM: The Snuneymuxw have been working on undone work from the 1850s—treaties that were never implemented and a lot of land in the Nanaimo [area] that was taken from them—like where Maffeo Sutton Park is and the Departure Bay Ferry Terminal.

The provincial government—like the night before the election—we got signatures on a reconciliation agreement just between the province and the Snuneymuxw. The Snuneymuxw were very clear, getting the signatures on the agreement is one thing—now the work on how to implement [will be] significant.

Im happier having Snuneymuxw themselves talking about the details of that work because, under the terms of the agreement, they wanted to be the lead on communicating some of the other community organizations that might be affected by us returning land to Snuneymuxw—crown lands that we have signed over to Snuneymuxw. But there is a conversation process so that, say if you were, a hunter, mountain bike user—people that used to use trails, whats going to be the sort of transition plan and what’s Snuneymuxw’s intentions around letting other neighbourhoods walk on the trails and things like that.

LM: With homeless rates rising in Nanaimo, how will you be stepping in to help with this?

SM: We had started to make some headway both on homelessness and affordable housing, and for the first time since 2012, the overdose death rate had fallen in British Columbia in 2019. Then 2020 and the pandemic just made everything worse and threw us back so far, which has been tragic on the death rate and on the conditions of people living on the street.

So right before the election, I had found three new tools that Nanaimo could use that came from the provincial government. One is called a Situation Table, thats a cooperative project with RCMP and the provincial Solicitor Generals Office. I got agreement from RCMP, city council, and the Solicitor Generals Office to have one brought to Nanaimo, that hasnt yet borne fruit, its still just being implemented now. The way it works to say, someone that is ending up in police files that the police feel like really, those crimes are crimes of poverty or addiction or a result of untreated mental illness, then theres a kind of a coordinated response where theyre able to ship those files more easily to the appropriate social service agency that can support them…

Then second is the homelessness navigation centre that we got awarded, it’s the second one in British Columbia as a pilot project. The people who have been chronically homeless will have a bed, have 24/7 support, get their health care situation stabilized, get access to addictions and mental health treatment, and set up to be good roommates or tenants so that they dont just obtain housing, but they retain it.

And then a third thing is a new ACT [Assertive Community Treatment] team, which is a psychiatrist led outreach team to deal with the most extreme kinds of mental illness of people living on the street. This [is for] … very painful mental health troubles that maybe are not well suited for someone going to a walk-in clinic … Thats on top of all the investments that were making as a province in mental health, in addictions.… It was only just last year that we—actually this year that we implemented the on-campus 24/7 access to mental health that was really spawned out of the tragedy at VIU two years ago that Advanced Education Minister Melanie Mark embraced as an idea that came from the student movement and has implemented it across all of British Columbia. Im especially glad we got that started during the pandemic because we recognize that the need is even more intense than it was before. Thats another BC innovation that started here at home and is going to be helping a lot of people across the whole province.

LM: I didnt realize that [the Here2Talk app] came based out of the incident that occurred a couple of years ago at VIU [in which a VIU student tragically took his own life on the campus].

SM: That’s what I heard from the minister’s staff, that it was something that came out of the student movement. They said this death here [on campus] really points to the particular need. But we can say VIU and the Students’ Union, in particular, put on the spark for that program.

LM: What do you have to say to young people who might want to start participating in their local government?

SM: Well, I would say, give yourselves a pat on the back for the influence that you’ve had already on our government. That 24/7 mental health on campus is one example. We removed interest on student loans,… we returned student grants something that the BC Liberal government had cut.…

Because of a very strong lobby, the commitment for free contraception was embraced by John Horgan and added into our platform for this election that just happened. That also came from the progressive push from the student movement.

By the end of the interview, Malcolmson was clearly enthusiastic and ready to be sworn back in to continue working hard for the people in Nanaimo and across the province.


Lauryn is a fourth-year Digital Media Studies student. She has had her work featured in the Powell River Peak, Portal Magazine, and The Discourse. When she’s not looking up fun facts about bees, she’s probably fantasying about Portland, Oregon.

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