B.C. Premier John Horgan called a snap fall election on Monday, a move widely determined to be taking a bet he can gain a majority government despite the risk it could alienate voters by taking them to the polls during the pandemic.
Reaction from B.C.’s opposition parties to the writ being dropped was scathing.
Calling the move cynical, BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said Horgan was putting politics before people by calling an election during the pandemic.
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“For no good reason whatsoever, we’re now being forced into a general election that nobody in British Columbia wants except the NDP,” Wilkinson said Monday.
The NDP also passed legislation providing for fixed election dates, the next slated for October 2021, he added.
“And now (Horgan) has torn it all to shreds for his own personal interest,” Wilkinson said.
The NDP leader announced the election will take place Oct. 24, with advance polls starting seven days prior.
Horgan is hoping to capitalize on his current popularity due to his handling of the pandemic, said Hamish Telford, a University of the Fraser Valley political science professor.
“I think the principal reason for holding the election now is that they are riding very high in the polls,” Telford said Monday.
Horgan was ranked the country’s most popular premier with an approval rating of 69 per cent, according to a poll released Monday by Maru/Blue Canada Inc.
The NDP leader said he struggled with the decision to hold an election, but emphasized it would lead to stability and certainty for the next government dealing with the pandemic in the coming year.
“We can either delay that decision and create uncertainty and instability over the next 12 months … or we can do what I believe is always the right thing and ask British Columbians what they think.”
The public has been broadly supportive of the B.C. government’s handing of the pandemic, particularly in the early months of the public health emergency, Telford said.
However, as winter approaches and the health crisis and economic repercussions deepen, Horgan’s popularity will likely begin to slide, Telford said
“From here on in, things are going to get more difficult,” he said.
This month, B.C. has been recording some of the highest daily case numbers since the start of the pandemic, and flu season is around the corner, Telford added.
“So, I think Horgan wants to go now, rather than later,” he said.
Plus, the NDP leader might be anticipating, and want to avoid coinciding with, a federal election next year, Telford added.
The premier had led a minority government with a support agreement in place with the BC Green Party. But to obtain a majority, the NDP must win at least four additional seats above the 41 seats they have now, Telford said.
B.C. Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, new to her role as of last week, said Horgan was putting his political fortune ahead of the health and safety of British Columbians.
Premier Horgan has a stable government, said Furstenau, in a statement Monday.
“I met with him on Friday and made it clear that we were willing to continue to work together in the best interest of British Columbians,” Furstenau said.
“For the next month, his ministers will be on the campaign trail instead of working with the Provincial Health Officer to manage this pandemic, which as we know changes daily.”
“This is politics at its worst,” she added.
Wilkinson put it down to misplaced politics saying people are worried about their jobs, kids and health due to the pandemic and that it was a time for stability, not politics.
“We’ve all got to wonder about the current premier, who has an ironclad deal with the Green Party to govern for another 13 months,” Wilkinson said.
Horgan’s move to call an election to obtain a majority government entails considerable risk, Telford said.
“The risk is that the gamble won’t pay off,” Telford said.
“Yes, he’s riding very high in the polls, but when I look at the election map, it’s difficult to see where the NDP can pick up seats that gets it to a majority.”
Though it’s seeking increased stability, the NDP might end up with another minority government, but this time without the guaranteed cooperation of the Greens at a time when the pandemic’s impacts will be more significant, Telford added.
“It could precipitate something of a political crisis,” he said.
B.C. recorded 366 new COVID-19 cases over the previous three days, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry reported on Monday afternoon.
Henry acknowledged the election announcement, but stated the province’s pandemic response would continue uninterrupted.
She and deputy health minister Stephen Brown will continue to be in close contact with Adrian Dix, health minister previous to the election call, and Carole James, the cabinet member not running in the election, acting as caretaker for government affairs during the election campaign, said Henry.
This will ensure ongoing management of any issues arising due to the pandemic, she added.
Work has also been done with Elections BC throughout the pandemic to prepare for safe elections, Henry said.
“The guidelines that we’ve come up with include how political parties and their candidates need to keep themselves, their staff and volunteers, and their community safe during the campaign,” Henry said.
There will also be measures during the election process to ensure everybody remains safe, she added.
Henry said she plans to meet with B.C. Chief Electoral Officer Anton Boegman Tuesday to provide the public with more details about the COVID-19 safety election plan.
Rochelle Baker/Local Journalism Initiative/ Canada’s National Observer
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