British Columbia·Analysis

Ready or not, here are the signs of a fall election in B.C.

If British Columbia Premier John Horgan isn’t considering calling a snap election, he's doing a poor job of showing it.

In the midst of the pandemic, NDP signals it's ready to pull the plug on three years in power

B.C. Premier John Horgan, pictured juggling with bartender Matt Majid outside the legislature in June, hasn't ruled out a snap election. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

If British Columbia Premier John Horgan isn't considering calling a snap election, he's doing an awfully bad job of showing it. 

In the past two weeks, his New Democratic Party has announced candidates for several key ridings. The government has been making announcements for already-committed projects like the SkyTrain extension down Broadway. 

And the premier himself is setting the groundwork for breaking his agreement with the Green Party and asking the lieutenant governor to go to the public for a new mandate — perhaps as early as next week.

"The Green caucus today is not the Green caucus of three years ago," said Horgan, referring to the resignation of Andrew Weaver as leader and his subsequent departure from the party's caucus. 

"The vast majority of the elements of CASA have been realized," he added, referring to the Confidence and Supply Agreement signed by the two parties in the weeks after the historic 2017 election that left no party with a majority in the B.C. Legislature for the first time since 1953. 

"Nowhere in that document will you see the word pandemic," he added.

Well. There are a lot of words not seen in the document, like "deficit" or "void," but no matter. 

The point is, Elections BC and party campaign workers are preparing for a potential election to be called, and the premier isn't doing anything to dissuade them of that possibility. 

The question is — why now?

With former Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, left, now an independent MLA, Premier John Horgan has hinted an agreement he made with the party which precludes a snap election may no longer be in effect. (Chap Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Cynicism versus opportunity

The answer, essentially, is pure politics.

According to recent polls, the NDP and Horgan have never been more popular, and the Green Party hasn't had a chance to organize because of their leadership contest.

Horgan is mandated to ask for an election by September 2021, but there's no guarantee conditions will be more favourable a year from now. 

And there exists a small window between the Green Party announcing a new leader on Monday and when any election would drift into the fall and winter influenza season. 

It's the type of calculation that University of British Columbia political science professor Gerald Baier says voters can interpret as cynical. That's why it's always a double-edged sword for parties that call a snap election. 

"How do you say, 'Well, it seems like the time was really right because we wanted to be reinforced with our mandate?' " he said.

"We're not back to normal and the other risk is that things go really south with [COVID case] numbers, and here's the government trying to get re-elected in the midst of that. It could be really challenging." 

At the same time, Baier said it's hard to blame to NDP for trying to lock in another four years. 

"They've done good things in terms of lining themselves up … obviously they're in as good of shape as they've ever been." 

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson says his party doesn't think an election is needed, but will focus on the economy, the COVID-19 response and reopening schools if one is called. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Focus on the future or the present?

It's that scent of cynicism the B.C. Liberals and Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson will attempt to exploit if an election is called — not that they're asking for it. 

"Who wants an election right now? Because I haven't come across a single British Columbian who's pushing for one other than John Horgan," said Wilkinson.

"People are very concerned about returning to school, the rising number of COVID-19 cases throughout B.C, and the prospects for them having a job by Christmas time. So it seems the only people who want to talk about having an election are the NDP."

At the same time, he says if there is an election, the Liberals would focus less on their vision for the province moving forward, and more on the issues directly related to the global pandemic. 

"The top priority issues right now … are K to 12 education, the state of the economy and making sure that we keep this virus under control," he said. 

"But I suspect that most British Columbians would rather get on with dealing with those things right now without an election."

In other words, the opposition doesn't want an election. The Green Party won't be particularly ready for an election. And the governing party isn't ruling it out. 

Things can change of course, especially if already record-high COVID-19 case counts continue to rise after the first few days of schools reopening.

But the next chapter of B.C.'s often-wacky political history may be just around the corner. 

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