Why did B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan call an election during a pandemic?

British Columbians will head to the voting booth on October 24th, after John Horgan has called a snap election. Richard Zussman reports

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan has called a snap election for Oct. 24.

Many voters may be asking why Horgan decided to call an election as the world continues to grapple with the novel coronavirus pandemic and B.C. has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases.

B.C. has a fixed election date set for October 2021, but Horgan said Monday that waiting for 12 more months would be time wasted.

“This pandemic will be with us for a year or more, and that’s why I believe we need to have an election now,” he said.

“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.”

University of the Fraser Valley political scientist Hamish Telford said Friday that Horgan and the NDP are gambling that his recent high approval ratings will translate into a majority government.

“He’s the most popular premier in the country right now, largely because of his response to COVID,” Telford said.

Read more:
B.C. Premier John Horgan’s approval rating soars to record levels amid pandemic: poll

“He’s had a very able health minister in Adrian Dix and, of course, (provincial health officer) Dr. Bonnie Henry has become a folk hero in British Columbia. So he wants to be able to parlay his minority government into a majority at this time.”

New Brunswick’s PC party called a snap election in August and was rewarded with a majority government last week.

But Horgan’s strategy could backfire, alienating voters who could view the election a politically self-serving move during a pandemic, according to Telford.

“It’s risky,” he said.

“Most British Columbians don’t think that there is a need for an election right now. We have seen in the past when governments have called early snap elections that have looked to be purely opportunistic, voters have reacted negatively and punished the government. So there is a risk that it won’t play out.”

As speculation around a provincial election grew, several voices urged Horgan and the NDP to reconsider sending voters to the polls.

Last week well-known political adviser Norman Spector’s penned a letter to B.C.’s Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin that appeared on the front page of the Victoria Times Colonist newspaper.

In the letter, Spector suggested that Austin encourage Horgan to maintain the non-partisanship that Dix and Henry have fostered during the pandemic.

“That non-partisanship would be squandered — and the effectiveness of pandemic management compromised — should the premier opt for an election for one reason and for one reason alone; viz., his party’s advantage in public opinion polls.”

The NDP and B.C. Liberals were tied with 41 seats each when the legislature was dissolved.

Read more:
Lieutenant governor should tell B.C. premier to ‘think about it’ before calling election: expert

The Greens held two seats, there were two Independents and one seat was vacant.

Telford thinks an NDP majority is anything from a slam dunk.

“If you look at the electoral map, it’s not an easy map or the NDP. They need to pick up a minimum of four seats to get a bare majority government, and that’s assuming they hold everything they’ve got. It’s not absolutely clear to me where they can pick up those seats to get to majority territory.”

— With files from Richard Zussman and The Canadian Press

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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