Premier John Horgan’s refusal to rule out a fall election has set the province’s media swarm abuzz with speculation that we will be heading to the polls this fall. If that happens, it could be Mr. Horgan’s first truly big mistake since he became premier.
Recent polling shows the NDP about 20 or more points ahead of the Liberals, so it’s understandable that the party leader would be tempted to call an election now and cash in on that support to form a solid majority in the legislature. His government is popular and his opposition is barely breathing.
Most B.C.ers we asked this week couldn’t name the Liberal leader. And even if they could, the rancour from the last Liberal government’s shady performance lingers. The Greens have a new leader but it’s no secret that the old leader, who is still much better known, has nothing good to say about her; hardly a breakthrough scenario.
The NDP, on the other hand, though by no means perfect, have taken a moderate and responsive approach to governing, and by and large they have been effective. While the leadership in some areas – transportation comes to mind – has left a lot to be desired, the party’s overall direction has struck an acceptable balance between competing needs and interests. Its handling of the pandemic, though currently challenged, has in general been exemplary.
As the premier with the highest approval rating in the country (69 per cent according to the latest Angus Reid poll), John Horgan is the NDP’s strongest political asset. He projects a persona that is straightforward, committed, affable, prepared to admit errors but also willing to fight for those principles that align with B.C.’s best interests. A reader’s comment in a national newspaper summed up the premier’s cross-over appeal: “I’ve never voted NDP in my life, but I’d vote for John Horgan.”
So why not call an election now, instead of waiting until fall of 2021? In political terms, his opponents have nothing to go after him on.
But that’s exactly what would change if he called a premature election. He would be gifting his opponents with a one-issue campaign that would come down to a single question – why? – and a single talking point – Horgan and the NDP care more about winning a majority than they do about your health. Read the letter on page 9 by Stephen Oakes, a 12-year veteran of polling stations, to get a sample of the concerns that would naturally arise from holding a general election during a pandemic, and then imagine them amplified by desperate politicians who would see this as their only path to victory.
It’s probable that the NDP would win a majority this fall, possibly win big. But the premier would also lose the trust and affection of many voters, especially older ones, who would never forgive him for placing his party’s fortunes ahead of their well-being. Why do that?
Our hope is that the premier has considered all this, and that by playing coy about a snap election he’s just having a little fun at the expense of the Fourth Estate and his hapless rivals. We would never begrudge him that.