He served in the BC Legislature from 1972 to 1987. The longest-serving member for Alberni constituency in history, he was elected five times. He was elected leader of the British Columbia New Democratic Party in 1984 and was Opposition Leader in the BC Legislature until 1987. He resigned as MLA in early 1988 and was elected to the House of Commons of Canada representing the Federal riding of Comox—Alberni from 1988 to 1993.
During his campaign in the 1986 election he showed such great gains against then Premier Bill Bennett that the Social Credit Party became alarmed and convinced Bennett to resign, replacing him with Bill Vander Zalm. During his campaign-launching speech on the day the election was called, Skelly had a brief nervous pause before assembled media, and this was seized upon by the media as their focus - ignoring other campaign events and issues presented by Skelly throughout the campaign. While the NDP failed to gain any seats under his leadership, neither did they lose any (Social Credit won 47 seats to the NDP's 22 in the newly enlarged BC Legislative Assembly). The NDP had dropped in popular vote from the previous election, though they scored a higher percentage than in the elections they won in 1972, 1991 and 1996. The NDP vote fell in each election after 1979 until the 2005 election.
Following the election, the distribution of electoral districts in the province was declared to be biased in favour of Social Credit, suggesting that Skelly would have won if this hadn't been the case. The courts then ordered a fair redistribution. In 1986 Skelly resigned as NDP leader and in the following year, a party convention acclaimed Michael Harcourt as his successor.
Skelly went on to federal politics and was elected Member of Parliament for the federal riding of Comox—Alberni in the 1988 federal election under the banner of the New Democratic Party. He ran for a second term but was defeated in the 1993 general election in which the New Democratic Party collapsed to nine seats..
Skelly served in parliament at the same time as his brother Ray Skelly.
- Normandin, P G (1985). Canadian Parliamentary Guide, 1985.
|Parliament of Canada|
Riding did not exist
| Members of Parliament from Comox—Alberni
1988 - 1993
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