British Columbia

John Horgan promises stability in B.C.'s pandemic response, despite instability of election campaign

While a fall election brings inevitable uncertainty about who will manage the coming months and years of B.C.'s COVID-19 response, NDP Leader John Horgan insists there will be stable oversight of the pandemic — at least while the campaign is underway.

Carole James tapped to take reins as 'stay-behind minister;' no change in public health officers

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan says Finance Minister Carole James, shown here in a file photo, will be the 'stay-behind minister' during the 2020 election campaign. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

While a fall election brings inevitable uncertainty about who will manage the coming months and years of B.C.'s COVID-19 response, NDP Leader John Horgan insists there will be stable oversight of the pandemic — at least while the campaign is underway.

During Monday morning's snap election call, Horgan said deputy premier Carole James will be taking the reins while he's busy on the stump.

"The tradition is to have a stay-behind minister to work with the public service," he told reporters.

"There is not a person in British Columbia I have more confidence in than her."

James, who also serves as finance minister, is not running for re-election, a decision she announced in March after revealing her diagnosis with Parkinson's disease.

There will be no change in the public health officers who are managing the pandemic response on the ground, Horgan added.

This will be the first election in B.C. held during a state of emergency since the Second World War, and Horgan acknowledged that this election cycle is uncharted territory.

"None of us have ever been here before," he said of the pandemic.

But he argues that the election is necessary to put B.C. on a solid footing for the turmoil ahead.

"We need a stable government to go through the challenges as they emerge, not to be hamstrung by uncertainty over whether a bill or an initiative of government will meet the muster of a minority government," Horgan said.

Schools 'not the responsibility' of premier

The election call comes at a particularly uncertain time for parents, teachers and school children, as the return to classrooms has brought anxiety and conflict.

Last week, the B.C. Teachers' Federation filed an application with the Labour Relations Board asking for it to step in and force the provincial government to resolve concerns about health and safety in schools in order to "prevent labour unrest."

But on Monday, Horgan said resolving health concerns about schools is not his job.

"When it comes to our schools, safe operation of our schools is not the responsibility of the premier. It's the responsibility of school boards, administrators, trustees," Horgan said.

He added that the challenges running schools during a pandemic vary from city to city and addressing them at the provincial level is not ideal.

"I understand absolutely that there's anxiety and I feel that and I hear about that … [but] it's best to be done at the local level," he said.

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