After six months of the NDP government pounding home a message about the need for total unswerving commitment and “100 per cent, all-in” focus on the biggest emergency in 100 years – COVID-19 – Premier John Horgan has switched gears and called an Oct. 24 election.
The call breaches two written understandings. One is in the law that stipulates a fixed date for elections (the next one was due Oct. 16, 2021). But there was always a workaround, and it’s the clause that recognizes the lieutenant-governor’s power to dissolve parliament any time on the premier’s advice.
The other was in the confidence and supply agreement with the B.C. Green Party, which agreed to back the NDP on the understanding the four-year full cycle would be respected. That looked ironclad, until Horgan started musing about how much things have changed.
Maybe his conscience got to him last week. The confidence deal had a “no surprises” rule so both parties were always in the loop. So he took the time to brief leader Sonia Furstenau on Friday and at the very least hinted that he was going to blow the deal up on Monday.
That little courtesy didn’t work. She’s furious. Oh well. Non-aggression pacts through history never seem to end well.
Horgan listed a series of reasons for the double double-cross at a news conference about why putting his mandate to a vote is suddenly so important. They were hollow from start to finish.
There is only one real reason: The NDP is enjoying a solid wave of support because of the daily show of leadership by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix. So Horgan is going to capitalize on it while it’s there, even if it means bypassing the thrust of the message that gave him the opportunity.
His main reason for calling the vote was “uncertainty and instability.” That’s a ludicrous description of the current B.C. political scene.
A recent Liberal MLA resignation actually temporarily gives them more of a cushion than before. This most polarized province has never been more united this year. The legislature has hung together on every single pandemic issue. All the money requested was approved unanimously. Virtually all the steps taken have been endorsed.
But Horgan said it became clear to him last summer that “there is a great divide between the two sides.”
He also noted more than a dozen MLAs want to retire. But so what? They signed up for four-year terms.
In other areas, there were two legislative differences with the Greens on matters of very limited scope. Hardly “instability.”
Yet he said holding to the established schedule would have created uncertainty and more speculation.
“The best way forward is put politics behind us,” he said. “Let’s address the differences we may have now, so that we can all come together after Oct. 24… Twelve more months of politics and partisan wrangling will not serve anyone.”
The economic recovery plan was unveiled last week, and it was obvious to everyone that it will serve as the NDP re-election platform as well. Finance Minister Carole James stressed the funding is all approved and the money is ready to go. There wasn’t a whiff of criticism from the B.C. Liberals or Greens. The only complaint about the package was that it didn’t come soon enough.
The NDP could still easily win on Oct. 24. But it would be a victory based on manipulating the extraordinary common commitment that’s arisen in B.C. and using it for their own purpose.
It all adds up to the phoniest reason to call an election since Social Credit premier W.A.C. Bennett’s regular hysterical warnings in the 1960s that the “socialist hordes were at the gates” and needed to be repelled.
The most concerning aspect of the election announcement was unstated. The wave of goodwill could easily still be there a year from now. Horgan could win re-election at the more appropriate time, when an election is a legal requirement, not just a power play.
But he decided it was too risky to wait. The risk is that if the ongoing surge of cases continues to escalate, the overwhelming buy-in from the public could start to erode.
Horgan voiced continued confidence in B.C.’s pandemic response. But his decision Monday doesn’t back that up.