Advance polls are now open in Nanaimo’s hotly contested provincial byelection. Long lineups formed at advanced polling stations Tuesday and as Skye Ryan reports, experts say its expected turnout will be strong right through to general voting day.

Gerry Dubois and Wayne Gorman were frustrated Tuesday by how long it took them to find an advanced polling station.

“We’ve been to several different buildings trying to find it,” said Nanaimo resident Gorman.

“You’d think they’d have put out better signage,” said Dubois, who is also from Nanaimo.

“Like so people would know where to go.”

Both men said their interest in Nanaimo’s by-election is high. They weren’t alone.

Long lineups formed quickly on Tuesday on the first chance for voting in the provincial byelection that will decide Nanaimo’s next MLA.

“I’m surprised by the number of lineups,” said Nanaimo resident Brian Sugiyama.

“On a miserable day that we have a lineup for an advanced poll and it’s good for Nanaimo that there is some excitement about a by-election.”

“I feel that it is a high stakes election that it’s really important to keep Nanaimo affordable and to keep our social services strong,” said Nanaimo resident Holly Bright, who was also waiting in line.

“That it’s really important to keep Nanaimo affordable and to keep our social services strong.”

VIU Professor of Political Studies’ Alex Netherton, said the huge turnout is no surprise to him considering that if the BC NDP doesn’t hold onto the seat in Nanaimo, the balance of power of power in the legislature is at risk, making Nanaimo voters as valuable as they can get.

“If you were in a community where the future of the provincial government laid on where you were, now…that would be kind of your alley wouldn’t it” said Netherton.

Advanced polling continues through Sunday in this Nanaimo byelection and general voting day is Wednesday, Jan. 30. Six candidates are running to replace former New Democrat Leonard Krog, who stepped down to successfully run for Nanaimo mayor.

The Vancouver Island seat is considered a New Democrat stronghold because the party has taken it 13 of the last 15 provincial elections.

Liberals are battling hard because a victory would give the party 43 seats, tying it with the 43 held by the New Democrat and Green alliance – Independent Darryl Plecas is currently serving as Speaker.

About 200 people turned out Monday night at the first all-candidates meeting to hear New Democrat Sheila Malcolmson, Liberal Tony Harris and Green candidate Michele Ney discuss issues focusing on the economy and affordability.

Malcolmson told the gathering that housing and family issues are keys to building B.C.’s economy.

“The economy cannot prosper without people. You build affordable housing. You use the tools we have to bring housing prices down. We’ve made some progress but it’s going to take some time,” she said.

Harris called for big investments in the “institutional components” of the community, while Ney said better education – including investment in science, innovation and technology – would help youth become leaders in a new economy.

The tone of the meeting was respectful and the candidates are to meet again at a second forum on Thursday.

With files from The Canadian Press and Nanaimo News Now

Skye Ryan