Premier John Horgan has rolled the dice in what is being called a “nakedly opportunistic move” as he hopes to transition his NDP government from a precarious minority to a “stable” majority by calling a provincial election one year early, while his party is riding high in opinion polls.
Dr. Stewart Prest, a professor of political science at SFU, says it’s “clearly a bit of a political gamble by the Horgan government.
“Voters are relatively satisfied, I think it’s fair to say, by and large, with the NDP response to the pandemic and this is an attempt by Horgan and the NDP to lock in that approval for the job that has been done,” Prest told the Now-Leader, immediately after the premier revealed B.C. voters will be going to the polls in five weeks.
“It’s a question of whether voters are going to focus more on the job the NDP has done,” Prest said, “or are they going to be frustrated by the call itself?”
“It’s a pretty nakedly opportunistic move on the part of the NDP,” Prest said. “Is that going to cost them? Is this going to give rise to voter frustration, does it metastasize into something like voter rage, a broad call for a change of government? I’m not comfortable predicting it going one way or another at this time, but I think that’s one of the key questions.”
BC Liberal Marvin Hunt, who will seek another term as MLA for Surrey-Cloverdale, says he hopes voters will punish the NDP at the polls for Horgan’s decision Monday to call an early election while COVID-19 cases are on the increase.
“My hope is the electorate will punish the NDP for doing this, that they’ll recognize this is absolutely about political ambition, this is nothing about the good for British Columbia,” Hunt said.
“We’re not ready simply because it was supposed to be on a set date. I thought it was interesting that one of the first pieces of legislation that Horgan introduced was to move the election from May to October next year.”
Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, expressed in a tweet Monday a widely-held reaction: “Just what we need to add to our pandemic stress.”
“Really, the general consensus is why now, why are we adding to pandemic stress for our business community, for our work force, for our community?” she told the Now-Leader on Tuesday.
Horgan said Monday that British Columbians want a government that’s “secure and stable, and focused 24/7 on their needs, their hopes and their aspirations.”
He told reporters he “struggled mightily” with his decision to call a provincial election for Saturday, Oct. 24, but believes “in his heart” that now is the right time for one.
The election didn’t have to be held until Oct. 16, 2021. But to wait until then, Horgan said, “seems to me to be time wasted.”
The NDP has been riding high in opinion polls compared to its rival Liberals.
“We are not at the end of COVID-19, we are at the beginning,” Horgan said Monday. “This pandemic will be with us for a year or more, and that’s why I believe we need to have an election now. We can either delay that decision and create uncertainty and instability over the next 12 months – more speculation, more talk about what might be – or we can do what I always believe is the right thing, and that is ask British Columbians what they think. I believe the best way forward is to put politics behind us.”
Horgan insisted the election can be held safely.
“Our campaign will fully comply with public health directions,” he said.
Meantime, Hunt noted that for the past 20 years B.C. had fixed election dates, and it worked well.
“There were opportunities for other premiers, when the polls were good,” he said. But, Hunt noted, those past premiers stuck to fixed election dates unless something forced an earlier date. “But nothing is forcing that – certainly the legislature is not forcing that; this is a choice of the premier and I think it is very unnecessary and very regrettable.
“I think what it shows, is it shows how political the NDP really are, that everything is a political issue and they are going to use everything to their advantage.”
Just what we need to add to our pandemic stress😔
British Columbians are heading to the polls. Premier Horgan says he has visited the Lieutenant Governor and will hold a news conference at 11am to announce details, -expected date of the election, October 24. @SBofT
— Anita Huberman (@anitahuberman) September 21, 2020
Hunt noted that in March $5 billion was authorized in taxpayers’ money to deal with the COVID-19 virus.
“We have worked together on this since March, constantly working together, which is something that he’s always said, ‘Let’s work together, let’s work together on this.’ How many times in Question Period was that one of his lines?”
Hunt charged Horgan will take $1.5 billion of that money to use “for election purposes.”
The Liberal MLA is seeking re-election in Surrey-Cloverdale, as is Liberal MLA Stephanie Cadieux in Surrey South, while Trevor Halford is running for the Liberals in Surrey-White Rock, Paul Boparai in Surrey-Newton, Gulzar Cheema in Surrey-Panorama, Dave Hans in Surrey-Guildford, Garry Thind in Surrey-Fleetwood, Shaukat Khan in Surrey-Whalley and Dilraj Atwal in Surrey-Green Timbers.
As for the NDP, former Surrey councillor Mike Starchuck will be squaring off against Hunt in Surrey-Cloverdale, while Harry Bains (Surrey-Newton), Jagrup Brar (Surrey-Fleetwood), Rachna Singh (Surrey-Green Timbers), Garry Begg (Surrey-Guildford), Jinny Sims (Surrey-Panorama), and Bruce Ralston (Surrey-Whalley), have all been acclaimed and are seeking re-election. At press time the NDP had not yet revealed candidates for Surrey South or Surrey-White Rock.
The local NDP campaign engine was already revving on Sunday, with press releases from Ralston that Old Yale Road elementary students will get $125,000 in provincial funding for a new accessible playground and Brar promising the same for students of Maple Green elementary school.
Representatives of the BC Green Party or BC Conservative Party could not be reached. Candidate nominations close 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2.
Does Hunt think the election can be done safely, like Horgan says?
“We’re just going to have to do it, we’re going to have to make it safe,” Hunt said. “As a result, a lot of the activities of a normal election won’t happen. We won’t be having rallies, we won’t be having large meetings. It’s going to severely limit what we can do even do at the doors with door-knocking, canvassing.”
Hunt said door-knocking is important to politicians seeking feedback from voters on what they want and expect from their government.
“We thought it was going to be a year from now – that we’d have time to prepare – but such is life. It gets thrown at us, and so we’re going to do our best and so we hope that the electorate will recognize that this is just the raw ambition of the NDP, and let them know that they don’t appreciate it.”
During his press conference Monday, one reporter asked Horgan who is “managing” the pandemic between now and Oct. 24.
“The tradition is to have a ‘stay behind minister’” to work with the public service, he said. “That minister will be the deputy premier and finance minister, Carole James.”
Another asked him if he had any moral or ethical concerns about calling an election, which he is “sure to win, it looks like at this point, or are likely to win,” one year early, in the middle of a pandemic.
“I do know that we need stability,” he replied. Yet another reporter asked him if he lied to British Columbians when he signed a deal saying he would not call an early election.
“The issues of 2017 are not the issues of 2020,” Horgan replied. “We did not contemplate the global pandemic, we did not contemplate the upheaval in our economic fabric, we did not contemplate the challenges of public and I believe that what we did in the past was one thing, what we need to do in the future is quite another matter, and the best way forward is to ask the people of British Columbia where they want to go and who they want to lead them.”