After two and a half years in power, B.C.’s minority New Democrat government enters 2020 under a new cloud of uncertainty. The departure of B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver could destabilize a power-sharing deal that’s allowed Premier John Horgan to govern in relative security since July 18, 2017.
In the short term, the NDP-Green deal still stands. Green MLA Adam Olsen is the party’s interim leader, and he’s pledged his six-month tenure will ensure ongoing support for the NDP.
But much depends on who wins the permanent job this summer, and whether that person decides to continue the confidence and supply agreement signed between the three Green MLAs and the Horgan government.
“Andrew’s leaving and he’s the signatory to the agreement,” Horgan said. “We don’t know what will emerge from the Green caucus. So I tell my colleagues: ‘Work today like it’s your last day.’ ”
Just as much unsteadiness is emanating from within the NDP itself, as strategists debate the merits of a snap election when opponents are at their weakest, Horgan’s popularity is at its height and the economy is still strong.
“I think with minority governments, any time we could go [to an election],” said Bob Dewar, the NDP’s 2017 campaign director and special adviser to the premier. “Especially 28 months into it, which is much longer than an average minority government.
“We have an agreement that says we’ll be here four and a half years. So if all things were equal, I think that might happen. But I’m not sure how equal they are anymore, with Andrew saying he’s not going to run again and the fact he’s stepping down as leader.”
Officially, the premier says he’s not enthusiastic about an early trip to the polls.
“No one wants an election except the hyper-partisans,” he said. “But regular people are happy. The books are balanced. Services are being delivered. Medical Services Plan premiums are gone. People are happy about a lot of things. So why would I disrupt that?”
Unofficially, his party, like the Liberals and Greens, is planning for just that scenario in mid-to-late 2020.
The case for an election
Some NDP strategists can boil the merits of an election down to one simple point: better to go now, before things get worse.
Horgan’s approval rating of 51 per cent is as high as it has ever been, making the premier a popular asset, rather than a scandal-plagued liability, on the campaign trail.
A snap election would see the NDP able to tout the benefits of a strong economy, prudent spending and several balanced budgets. With darkening economic forecasts, a collapsing forestry sector and a shrinking $148-million budgetary surplus, the economy might not be a positive talking point for the NDP much longer.
A lack of money could also limit the government’s agenda for the final two years in office, disappointing its allies as it limps into the scheduled election date of October 2021 on the back half of a mandate that required spending cuts rather than fulfilling its ambitious promises for social spending.
Even worse, the provincial treasury could tilt into deficit over issues like the Insurance Corp. of B.C., despite an internal scramble from Finance Minister Carole James to cut discretionary spending. That would open the NDP up to attacks that it chronically mismanages B.C.’s finances.
“The financial situation for the B.C. government is deteriorating rapidly, and that’s going to come back to bite the NDP,” said Opposition Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson.
“So there are lots of reasons for a spring election.”
The Liberals recently opened the nomination process for candidates in 11 ridings, and a new batch is expected in early 2020. Party volunteers are spending Saturdays knocking on doors, and the Liberals tout an already-vetted list of candidates with 350 credible names to be matched with ridings.
The NDP, meanwhile, has been out-fundraising the other parties, under a law it created that bans corporate and union donations. New Democrats have the financial advantage over a Liberal party still heavily in debt from the 2017 campaign, and a Green party more focused on an internal leadership race than a provincewide campaign.
The Green instability factor
Candidates for the Green leadership have until April 15 to declare. Rules include three public debates, $16,000 in fees to the party and campaign spending limits of $300,000. The winner will be named at a convention in Nanaimo on June 28.
Weaver intends to remain an MLA, despite resigning as leader. That means the three Green signatories to the NDP confidence agreement will continue to side with government to give it a 44 to 42 vote advantage over the Liberals in the house.
If Cowichan Valley Green MLA Sonia Furstenau wins the permanent position, she too would be bound by the confidence and supply agreement. In that scenario, the NDP could coast to the next scheduled provincial election in October 2021.
But if anyone other than Furstenau wins the Green leadership, they would not be required to continue to prop up the NDP.
“In theory, a new leader would not be bound by [the agreement],” Weaver said. “But I don’t see a new leader coming in and wanting to blow everything up. Why would they do that? So I could see the new leader wanting to work within [it].”
There could also be other complications.
If the victor of the Green leadership race is not Furstenau, and therefore not already an MLA, Weaver said he may choose to resign his seat in Oak Bay-Gordon Head so that the new leader could run in a byelection to try for their own seat in the house.
“Let’s suppose that somebody emerges from Prince George, and they win leadership of the party, and then obviously they’ll come knocking on the door and say look, you know, I would like to be in the legislature to build presence, and that’s a conversation I’m open to because that’s the honourable thing to do,” Weaver said.
“When new leaders come in, the honourable thing to do is if that new leader is not already MLA is to step aside and let them.”
However, winning Oak Bay-Gordon Head would not be a cakewalk for Weaver’s Green replacement.
Weaver upset a Liberal cabinet minister to win in 2013 and become the first Green MLA in B.C. history. His personality and work ethic appears to have carried the riding since then. But it remains one of the most affluent in the province, and has strong Social Credit and B.C. Liberal roots.
Were the Liberals able to win it back in a byelection sparked by a new Green leader, that would deadlock the legislature in a 43-vote tie and almost certainly trigger a provincial election.
That scenario has crossed the mind of NDP strategist Dewar.
“If it’s just three [Green MLAs], that’s fine. But if it goes down to two, that means somebody has left and it’s a hung parliament,” Dewar said.
“This is Oak Bay-Gordon Head and yes, Andrew won it in 2013 and 2017, and we won it in a byelection back in the 1990s and one other time, but every other time than that it has been Liberal or Socred.”
The byelection scenario is one of the reasons the NDP remain on high-alert election readiness.
Weaver said he knows the NDP is calculating how to take advantage of the instability.
“Bob Dewar is a brilliant political strategist, without any doubt, so I’m sure he’s worked through every possible pathway and narrative,” Weaver said.
“If I were Bob, and I’m a strategist for a party and I saw this leadership change, I’d be working out all sorts of different potential trajectories. I’m sure he has.”
How an election would — or more likely, wouldn’t — work
There are several ways the NDP could force an election, if the Green instability fails to trigger one organically. But each method is fraught with political risk and potential voter backlash.
The easiest way would be to slip a poison-pill policy into an upcoming budget, throne speech or key piece of legislation the government designates as a matter of confidence — perhaps something like a renters’ rebate (which the NDP campaigned on but the Greens have blocked).
Whatever the issue, the NDP could select something deliberately designed to force the Greens to vote the government down, but also popular enough to serve as the launching pad for the NDP’s election campaign platform.
Given the two parties work closely together, with top cabinet ministers and Greens meeting to consult on priority items on a weekly basis, such a move by the NDP would be tantamount to a sneak attack.
Another scenario could see Horgan simply walk into Government House and ask Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin to dissolve parliament and call an election. By convention, the viceregal representative of the Queen is supposed to listen to the advice of her first minister unless it would harm the democratic interests of the province.
One complication, though, is the fact that the confidence and supply agreement with the Greens also binds the NDP. “The leader of the New Democrats will not request a dissolution of the legislature during the term of this agreement, except following the defeat of a motion of confidence,” reads the document signed by Horgan and each of his NDP MLAs.
A second complication is B.C.’s fixed election date law.
“The LG is bound by convention to act on the advice of the premier to call an early election,” said Andrew Heard, a political-science professor who specializes in constitutional issues at Simon Fraser University.
“That’s not to say the premier is free to call an early election whenever he likes. The spirit of the fixed election date legislation is that fairness for all parties requires set election dates. The possibility of an early election was really thought to be available only following a loss of confidence or a some really extraordinary circumstances that justified going to the electorate.
“In my view a convention has been established that the fixed election dates be respected, but it is of a type of convention that occasional breaches don’t undermine the general rule. I think the principle of fair elections would be seriously undermined if premiers felt they could simply disregard the need to wait four years.”
It’s not an opinion the premier seems to share.
“I could call an election tomorrow,” Horgan said. “That’s my prerogative as premier. But it’s not my intention to do that.”
Horgan has also spent much of his first two years in power boasting how his minority government is accomplishing its agenda and working well with its Green partners. To trigger an early election would be an abrupt and dramatic reversal of his entire message.
“With everything staying the same as it is right now, I don’t think we could engineer an election,” Dewar said. “I think it’d be very difficult to do. I have seen, in the past, governments engineer elections when the time wasn’t ready.”
The 1975 NDP government of Dave Barrett attempted a similar manoeuvre, triggering an early election that year. An angry electorate refused to return the party to power. A book on the Barrett government successes and mistakes was later written by veteran journalist Rod Mickleburgh and NDP strategist Geoff Meggs — the latter of whom is now Horgan’s chief of staff and top political adviser.
The NDP minority government is now 28 months into its tenure — longer than the Canadian average for a minority of government of around two years. It could sail the full four and a half year term, or end in a matter of months, depending on the events of early 2020.
“We need to be prepared at all times,” Horgan said.
“I’ve taken every day as it comes. And that I think is the strength of our government. What are the circumstances that are in front of me, how do we as a group deal with those, always mindful that it’s about people? And if we keep focusing on the services that we want to deliver, the calibre of policy changes and what they mean for communities, I think we’ll be fine. Because if we’re on the right foot, in all of these situations, the public will say carry on.”
Who Won the Debate? Political Observers Weigh In – The New York Times
Like other presidents who have slipped in the polls after a widely panned first debate, President Trump was the beneficiary of low expectations on Thursday night in the final debate before the election, a more civil and lower-decibel affair than the last.
But his effort to demonstrate greater discipline was most likely too little, too late to deliver the jolt to the race that he needs to lift his chances for re-election, some of the nation’s top political strategists and other observers said.
Where some saw hope for Mr. Trump, others saw the same candidate facing the same challenging campaign dynamics.
“Nothing changed,” Matthew Dowd, a former top aide to President George W. Bush, said on ABC News. “He wasn’t a bull in a china shop. That doesn’t mean he won the debate.”
Though Mr. Trump needed some kind of breakthrough to overcome former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s lead in the polls, Mr. Dowd said later that he did not see that happen during the course of the 90-minute encounter. “Biden had a lead going in and has a lead leaving,” he wrote on Twitter.
The size of Mr. Biden’s lead, double digits in some national polls, is so large that any good Mr. Trump did to his campaign was probably limited by Mr. Biden’s even performance. “Biden did not do a face plant,” said Charlie Cook, the editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “That is all he needed to do.”
Ahead of the debate, many analysts saw parallels between Mr. Trump’s underdog position and the high stakes President Barack Obama faced before his second debate in 2012, when he delivered sharper and more forceful rebuttals to Mitt Romney than he had before, and soon rebounded in the polls.
Certainly, many of Mr. Trump’s defenders sought to portray his performance that way on Thursday. Many claimed that he had triumphed over Mr. Biden, seizing on the former vice president’s statement about phasing out fossil fuel use as a devastating misstep.
Some praised the president merely for not interrupting. “Trump’s self-control is very impressive right now,” said Allie Beth Stuckey, a conservative writer and podcast host.
And others claimed that Mr. Biden had reinforced stereotypes of him as a career politician who inspires little passion.
David Brody, the chief political analyst for the Christian Broadcasting Network, said on Twitter that the president “has effectively hammered home a very simple theme tonight and that is this: ‘what have you done Joe during all your time in DC? You’re all talk no action.’”
Mr. Brody concluded, “That message will have traction.”
But it was not certain that the evening would have much effect on a race in which few undecided voters remain. Nor was it clear that the debate did anything other than reaffirm what most people already felt about both men.
Here is what observers from across the political spectrum said.
Mr. Trump’s supporters believed they had the moment that every campaign dreams of in a debate: those 20 or so seconds when your opponent makes a gaffe that can be spliced into an attack ad that can run repeatedly over the final stretch of the race.
It was not clear, however, that this is what Mr. Trump had after Mr. Biden challenged the president to produce video proving that he had said he would ban fracking, and then expressed support for phasing out fossil fuels and ending federal subsidies for oil companies.
“I’m not sure much is going to change or can at this point in the race, in this year, but if anything were to, that oil line is the one that will haunt him,” said Mary Katharine Ham, a conservative analyst.
Republicans quickly began circulating one such video showing Mr. Biden describing what he would do about fracking, saying, “We would make sure it’s eliminated.” The former vice president has since said repeatedly he does not support ending the practice, a major source of jobs.
“Biden thinks PA is stupid,” said Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union.
Republican strategists also saw something to like in Mr. Trump’s response on how he plans to handle the growing number of coronavirus cases across the country, revealing the deep divide between many conservative supporters of the president, who want a generally more hands-off approach from the government, and most other Americans, who believe in taking steps such as mandating mask-wearing in public.
Ari Fleischer, a former aide to Mr. Bush, said many Americans would find something more hopeful in the president’s message, versus what he saw as the pessimism of Mr. Biden’s words. “Trump is right about learning to live with the virus,” Mr. Fleischer said. “We can and must fight the virus, and live our lives. I suspect Trump’s message about living with it beats Biden’s message about dying with it.”
Brad Todd, a Republican strategist, echoed that point, saying that many Americans are wary of stringent lockdowns. “Biden talks bailouts and shutdowns – Trump talks re-opening. That’s a good contrast for the President and he should hold this fight here,” Mr. Todd said.
But Tony Fratto, who also worked for the Bush administration, raised what some strategists have said is Mr. Trump’s Achilles’ heel: his drop in support among seniors. “Continuing to press the fact that young people are less likely to die will not help to close that gap with old people,” Mr. Fratto said.
Mr. Biden’s defenders appeared to anticipate that Mr. Trump would be graded on a curve. But they tried to remind people that any perceptions of a vast improvement were relative.
“I’ve watched more Trump debates than any human,” Ron Klain, an aide to Mr. Biden who helped him prepare for the debates, said less than an hour into the event on Thursday. “The ‘new’ Trump never lasts more than 40 minutes.”
And Tim Miller, a Republican strategist who is supporting Mr. Biden, said the president’s ability to demonstrate self-control should not be confused with good policy. Describing the president’s response to being challenged by Mr. Biden on his handling of the coronavirus, Mr. Miller asked: “Was the president’s task there to convince Americans he has a plan to deal with this pandemic or to convince Americans that he can behave like a good boy for 4 minutes? Because it was a whiff on the first one.”
One of the biggest unknowns going into the debate was how Mr. Trump might try to unnerve Mr. Biden by raising unsubstantiated claims about the business pursuits of his son Hunter in China and elsewhere.
But when Mr. Trump raised the issue, he found himself on the defensive when Mr. Biden turned the question back around, asking about Mr. Trump’s taxes and noting a recent New York Times report that brought to light a previously undisclosed Chinese bank account belonging to the president. Even some conservatives conceded that Mr. Biden had played his hand well when Mr. Trump had to spend time explaining why he had not released his tax returns.
“Biden had a shrewd strategy on Hunter allegations to get it on Trump’s taxes and bank account, and it worked,” said Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review.
Ezra Klein, the editor at large of Vox, said that Mr. Trump appeared thrown off by Mr. Biden’s response. “It is amazing how easy it is to distract Trump from the one attack he clearly prepared for tonight by needling him on his tax returns and finances,” he said. “It’d be funny except for that same total absence of focus defines his presidency.”
Paul Davis's political return sparks Conservative Party turmoil – CBC.ca
Former premier Paul Davis has announced his decision to re-enter politics, this time at the federal level — but that move isn’t welcome news to some members of the Conservative Party of Canada, with some local riding executives stepping away from their duties because of it.
On Thursday night, Davis posted on Facebook that he will seek the party’s nomination in the riding of Avalon in a future general election. Early Friday morning, Chris Power, the president of the Avalon Conservative Association, made an announcement of his own: that as Davis didn’t notify party executives first prior to posting, Power was stepping aside from his party duties, at least temporarily.
“I strongly feel that he should have first given notice to CPC nominating committee before any public announcement was made,” Chris Power said in a letter to fellow members of the association board.
In an interview with CBC News, Power said others on the board feel similarly and some executives have resigned, although he said Davis was not required to give a heads-up to the party before making his announcement.
“That’s your people on the ground, and the general consensus [is] that if we’re on the ground, that our opinion should matter, you know, and it didn’t seem like it really did,” Power said Friday.
Power himself has decided on a temporary leave of absence from his role while the nomination process is underway, as Power said he and other executive members support the other candidate, Matthew Chapman, over Davis.
“We just thought at this time that we’d be better served with fresh blood. And we frankly didn’t think experience as a provincial politician was necessarily a positive thing right now,” said Power, who said he will be taking a “very active role” campaigning for Chapman during his leave.
‘Airing their dirty laundry’
Davis departed politics in November 2018, and in his resignation announcement at the time said he had no intention of running federally. But on Friday, Davis said the last six months — with troubles besieging small businesses and large industries, particularly oil and gas, as well as the omnipresent uncertainty — changed his mind.
“Someone needs to step up to the plate. I just can’t sit by any longer,” he told CBC News.
“There’s no plan to fix it. We don’t even hear any empathy or concern being communicated by our MPs in Ottawa.”
Davis said he’s had positive discussions with the local party ranks about running, and was caught off guard by their reaction to his announcement.
“Many of them are supporters of the other candidate. So it’s not unusual … for a candidate to have their own supporters on a district association. It happens provincially, it happens federally, it’s not unique to Avalon,” he said.
“I’m a little bit surprised that they’re airing their dirty laundry publicly, or their views on that, because some of them have been open arms welcoming and encouraged me to be in the process.”
A grassroots revival
Chapman, the other candidate, said he’s open to the competition.
“I wish Paul nothing but the best, and I’ve told him that. I believe that the membership and people of Avalon are going to recognize that I ran when nobody else would,” he said.
Chapman ran in the 2019 general election and lost to Liberal Ken McDonald, who has been the riding’s MP since 2015. In that race Chapman garnered significant support, capturing 31 per cent of the vote, compared with McDonald’s 46 per cent.
Chapman credited that to grassroots support, as he and a few dedicated volunteers spent the last year rebuilding the Conservative Party’s base in the riding.
“I’ve spoken to all of people who are upset, because they’ve recognized I’ve literally put hundreds of hours of work into rebuilding this,” he said.
“People had the opportunity to run and turned it down, people had the opportunity to get involved and rebuild their association, and they didn’t.”
In the last year, the party’s grassroots in the Avalon have grown, added Power, to an executive board of 25 people with more than 280 party members, but Davis’s announcement and its resulting inner turmoil could prove to be a setback for the party.
“It’s sad because we had a number of initiatives that we were working through as a district that now all has to be put on hold,” said Power.
The call for nominations in the riding is still open, and Davis said the party would give two weeks’ notice before it closes and the candidate election process kicks in.
Some facts on British Columbia politics as the province heads to the polls Saturday – News 1130
VANCOUVER — Voters in British Columbia go to the polls on Saturday. Here’s some of what you need to know about B.C. politics:
— The NDP formed a minority government in 2017 with support from the Green party after finishing on election night with two fewer seats than the B.C. Liberals, while the Greens had an election breakthrough, winning three seats and holding the balance of power.
— The last time B.C. had a minority government before that was in 1952 and the NDP’s rise to power in 2017 ended a 16-year span outside government.
— The B.C. Liberals were in power from 2001 to 2017.
— Andrew Wilkinson became leader of the Liberal party in February 2018, replacing Christy Clark.
— John Horgan was acclaimed NDP leader in 2014 and first won a seat in the legislature in 2005.
— Sonia Furstenau took over the job of Green party leader about a week before the election was called, replacing Andrew Weaver.
— This election has 87 seats up for grabs. At dissolution, the NDP and Liberals were tied with 41 seats. The Greens held two seats, there were two Independents and one seat was vacant.
— The Liberal Party of British Columbia is not affiliated with the Liberal Party of Canada and describes itself as “a made-in-B.C. free enterprise coalition.”
— The NDP was in power from 1991 to 2001 with four different party leaders during its time in office.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 23, 2020.
The Canadian Press
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