01/03/2019 13:07 EST | Updated 03/25/2019 07:40 EDT

Bill C-76 Changes, Resignations Could Mean 2 Ridings Left Without MPs Until Fall

Omnibus legislation changed the game when it comes to byelections.

HuffPost Canada/CP
Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio, outgoing NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson are shown in a composite image.

Resignations in the wake of Liberal changes to Canada's election laws could mean that two federal ridings are left without representation until after the next general election.

Sheila Malcolmson, who won the British Columbia riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith for New Democrats in 2015, is now running for the B.C. NDP in a critical provincial byelection called Wednesday by Premier John Horgan.

UPDATE: On March 24, 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a byelection in Nanaimo-Ladysmith for May 6.

Malcolmson says she told House of Commons Speaker Geoff Regan in late November that her resignation would come into force on Jan. 2. However, Elections Canada has not yet listed the seat as vacant.

When she announced her intentions to join Horgan's NDP government in October, Malcolmson expressed hope that she could become a provincial MLA "without triggering a federal byelection." But Horgan's decision to call a vote in Nanaimo for Jan. 30 has raised the stakes for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Facebook/Sheila Malcolmson
Sheila Malcolmson poses with B.C. Premier John Horgan in a photo posted to Malcomson's Facebook page.

Bill C-76, an omnibus bill that received royal assent before MPs jetted home for the holidays, changed the Parliament of Canada Act to prohibit calling a byelection within nine months of a fixed election date. The prime minister is entitled to wait up to six months to call a byelection when a seat is deemed officially vacant by Elections Canada.

With a federal vote on the books for Oct. 21, the riding Malcolmson is leaving behind could be without an MP for nine months.

That's the situation already confronting constituents in the Quebec riding of Saint-Leonard-Saint-Michel. So-called "missing" Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio, whose lengthy absence from Parliament Hill sparked controversy and confusion in the fall, announced he will give up his seat on Jan. 22.

By choosing to leave on that date, Di Iorio has guaranteed that a byelection cannot be be called to replace him timing that has spurred Conservatives to allege something fishy is going on.

Trudeau 'rigged' MP's resignation, Tories charge

"What a coincidence," Tory whip Mark Strahl said in the House last month. "Why has the prime minister rigged the date of the member's resignation to keep the people of Saint-Leonard-Saint-Michel from having the byelection they deserve?"

Government House Leader Bardish Chagger responded at the time that Di Iorio "publicly indicated his intention and has shared the issues on which he will be working on behalf of his community."

Trudeau is expected to soon call byelections for February to fill vacancies in the B.C. riding of Burnaby South, Quebec riding of Outremont, and Ontario riding York-Simcoe.

The Burnaby South contest is of particular interest because NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is running there and a loss could spell the end of his leadership.

Earlier: Jagmeet Singh says bid for a seat is about 'the people'

In October, the leaders of Canada's four main opposition parties signed a joint letter blasting what they saw as Trudeau's reluctance to call byelections in the three vacant ridings.

"While the parties we lead disagree on what solutions are best for the challenges facing Canadians, we are in complete agreement that Canadians deserve to have elected representation as soon as possible," the letter read.

"We urge you to do what's best for Canadians in these ridings and immediately call the byelections for all vacant seats in the House of Commons."

At the time, Trudeau had already called a byelection in the Ontario riding of Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes to fill the seat left vacant after the death of Tory MP Gord Brown.

Tories easily kept the riding blue on Dec. 3.

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The prime minister previously brushed aside criticism from NDP MPs that he was being "petty and manipulative" by not letting Singh, a former Ontario legislator, take his much-anticipated shot at a federal seat.

Liberals are also running a candidate against Singh in Burnaby South, bucking an informal "leader's courtesy" of not putting up competitors against party leaders who do not hold a seat in the House. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May announced in the summer that her party would not field a candidate against Singh.

Karen Wang, a daycare operator who previously ran for the B.C. Liberals, was nominated on Saturday to carry the federal Grit banner in Burnaby South.

With files from The Canadian Press