There have been lots of rumours around potential elections milling around the media. That was the case in New Brunswick and in that case, it brought an early election. There have been weeks of rumours that we could have a federal election this Fall too. Those rumours have run hot and cold and right now they seem to be on the cool side of that cycle. And Saskatchewan is going to the polls, but that is because the term of the current Sask Party government is up and they don’t have a choice, unlike what happened in New Brunswick.
On the west coast, there have been rumours running on the hot side for weeks about a potential election. We’ve seen many current cabinet ministers announce that they were retiring from public life and we’ve seen the governing NDP ramping up the nominations with some big names coming in, all normal signs you would see before a campaign. But the question was would the Horgan New Democrats actually pull the plug and send British Columbians into an election. Well today that answer came and, in the end, it likely that wasn’t shocking:
And off the go to the polls, another one in the middle of a global pandemic. Election Day will be October 24th and it will be something different than we have seen in the past, that’s for sure. Here is the state of play in polling going into things and what each party leader had to say about this today:
There is a lot to say about these election writs being drawn up and the wisdom behind it, especially during a global pandemic. When the New Brunswick Conservatives brought their own government down to force an election in search of an illusive majority during this pandemic, I raised my concerns about doing such things. It was a major risk to take, not just politically but regarding public health. They had a minority government that had been working well for two years and could have continued on.
When it comes to what just happened in British Columbia, those concerns are the same. In some ways you could argue that the situation in BC was even more stable, with a firm supply agreement in place with the BC Greens. Also while COVID didn’t spike during the New Brunswick election, with the return of schools across the country we’re seeing numbers start to rise, with flu season right around the corner. To put it mildly, the risk that COVID could flare up right now is very real and brings all kinds of serious risks to public health and the political health of this government.
But all that being said, this isn’t a clear-cut case that it shouldn’t happen. While New Brunswick’s legislature had only sat for two years when their election was sprung, BC’s legislature has been sitting for the past three and a half years. There as going to need to be an election within the year on the West Coast anyway, and at this point it feels pretty clear that this pandemic will not be over by then. So it can be safely said that British Columbians were likely to be going to the polls during a pandemic whenever it was that they decided to vote next. We’ll see what effect, if any, going early has and if it lingers. It didn’t in New Brunswick but that’s no guarantee that it will here.
As for the state of this race one thing is pretty clear; this is the Horgan NDP’s race to lose. They are entering this race in a strong position with a chance to form a strong majority. Their good management of the COVID crisis does give them a strong position to start with and the same can be said for their management since they took office. Premier Horgan has one of the highest popularity ratings in the entire country and it remains to be seen if this early election call will eat into that or not. For the NDP, there is a decent case to be made for a majority government, revolving around the impacts of COVID and the need to bring stability. If that case will win the day remains to be seen.
Their main opponents are the BC Liberals led by Andrew Wilkinson, who has honestly had his problems finding his feet since taking over their leadership. In the New Brunswick campaign was a case of Blaine Higgs winning by default because no leader performed well, in BC it’s more of a case of John Horgan performing well and Wilkinson performing poorly. The usual left/right NDP/BC Liberal election strategies may not serve Wilkinson and his team well, as we are in a period where COVID has increased the need for government help in this period. The usual BC Liberals approaches of cutting this or freezing that my not sound as good to British Columbians during such a difficult time. It will be interesting to see what approach the Liberal team will take towards fighting against this popular Premier because in order to have a chance to win this campaign they will need to have the right message at the start. Given their struggles in the past couple of years, that may be asking too much.
As has been the case in British Columbia for the past few elections, the Greens are the real wildcard, but this time will be different. The retirement of BC Green Leader Andrew Weaver and his subsequent leaving the Green caucus without their most prominent caucus member. His strong debate performances helped to build the Greens to the point where they held the balance of power after the last election. Sonia Furstenau was one of those MLAs brought in last time and she because Weaver’s successor just a week ago. Having just finished a leadership race, it’s clear that the Greens aren’t their readiest going into this race, which will hurt them. If anyone stands to benefit from any potential backlash from an early election call, in theory it would be the Greens. But that was dealt a severe blow when Weaver, the person who signed the supply agreement with Horgan, is on the record saying that if the NDP went into an early election it wouldn’t break that agreement. That makes it harder for Furstenau to make the case that she clearly was trying to earlier. Furthermore, when it comes to their place in the polls, they are not in the best position they have been in for a while. On top of that, in Weaver’s old seat the NDP have recruited very popular former MP Murray Rankin to run. As a result of all of this, the Greens go into this campaign on the defensive and how this early call is received in the next few days will go a long way to saying if that changes.
Whether if this is a good idea for British Columbia to go into an election or not is open for debate but now it’s happening. What’s done is done on that front and whatever comes from this, the risk will fall squarely on the shoulders of John Horgan. This is his race to lose and he clearly knows the risks he’s taking by going early. While Blaine Higgs got lucky in New Brunswick when it came to COVID during that campaign there’s no guarantee that will happen again. It’s all a big risk they’re taking, and it could mean the big reward of a majority government. But like with any big risk, it could also go the other way. We’ll see what happens here but like what happened in New Brunswick last month, this campaign will be another case study for the history books.