Ousted long-time Nelson MP Dr Nick Smith may soon be on the hunt for a new job.
After three decades as a National electorate MP in the Nelson-Tasman region, Smith lost his seat on Saturday to Labour candidate Rachel Boyack, who becomes the first woman constituency MP for Nelson.
Boyack received 18,625 votes in the preliminary count – 3577 more than Smith. Her win is part of a landslide victory for Labour nationally.
“It’s been a king tide for Labour that just proved too tough to swim against locally,” Smith said. “I’ll take some time to reflect on what’s next for Nick Smith.”
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At No. 18 on the National Party list and with the special votes still to be added, Smith may still squeak into Parliament.
If he doesn’t make the cut, Smith will have to find a new path to tread.
Despite a first-class honours degree in civil engineering and a PhD in landslides, it is politics that has dominated Smith’s life for the past 30 years. He was first elected in 1990 as the MP for the former Tasman electorate. In 1996, he stood for – and won – the Nelson seat, an electorate he held for 24 years until Saturday.
“It has been an honour and a privilege, Smith told supporters of his time as a constituency MP. “Sorry, the champagne will be coming on ice – we’ll be saving that for 2023.”
As he congratulated Boyack in person at the Labour Party gathering, Smith said it had been an enormous privilege to be the MP for the community “and I now pass that mantle to yourself”.
“I said to my supporters before those results came in: ‘Look, the worst-case scenario is that I get the sack and I get to spend more time with my wife – that’s being a winner’ and I do want to acknowledge my wife, Linley.”
Smith also acknowledged the way Boyack had “grown as a politician”. The pair first went up against one another for the seat in 2017, which was Boyack’s inaugural attempt to win a place in Parliament.
“On this platform you’ve had a level of both competence, confidence – and enthusiasm that I also want to acknowledge in the way that you have grown,” Smith said. “May our politics in New Zealand never become toxic and horrible like it does in other parts of the world.”
Calls of “hear, hear” came from the crowd after the comment. Members of the Labour Party crowd also broke into a rendition of For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow as Smith left the room.
When Smith was first elected in 1990, he was part of a group of four dubbed the “brat pack” that included fellow newbies Tony Ryall, Roger Sowry and Bill English, who would later become prime minister.
In 2016, Smith recalled meeting former prime minister Rob Muldoon in Parliament for the first time. Sharp-tongued and quick-witted, Muldoon told the young Dr Smith: “There’s only two sorts of doctors – those that make you well and those that make you sick.”
Over the following three decades in Parliament as an electorate MP, Smith held 13 ministerial portfolios, in the Bolger, Shipley, Key and English cabinets, covering Conservation, Building and Construction, Housing, Education, Immigration, Corrections, Social Welfare, Treaty Negotiations, Environment, ACC, Climate Change and Local Government.
In early 2018, English announced his resignation as both National Party leader and an MP, leaving Smith as the last remaining member of the “brat pack” still in Parliament and earning him the title of Father of the House.
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