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“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” ~~ John G. Diefenbaker

JOHN TWIGG -- It is fair to say that the advent of the COVID crisis has been a bit of a blessing in disguise for the Horgan government; at least from a partisan perspective

John Twigg

Don't look now but it will soon be three years since the last provincial election in B.C. (on May 9) and that signals several things, notably that an election call could come anytime between now and October next year.
The likelihood of a snap election call is highly unlikely at present, with the COVID19 pandemic having shut down public meetings, caused an early adjournment of the Legislature and suspended the leadership contest in the B.C. Green Party, which holds three seats in the Legislature - enough seats to hold the balance of power between the B.C. Liberals with 42 seats and the B.C. New Democrats with 41 seats.

(The 87th seat is held by Darryl Plecas, who as a rookie MLA chose to leave the Liberal caucus, sit as an Independent and thus be elected Speaker by the NDP and Greens and earn great enmity from his former Liberal colleagues for doing so - but it also has helped expose some questionable financial transactions in the Speaker's realm in years past.)

It's thus an understatement to say the balance of power in B.C. politics is razor thin and that the tenure of NDP Premier John Horgan's regime is shaky though opinion polls suggest he and his party enjoy a viable approval rating - especially their adept handling of the COVID crisis - and so far there have been no serious calls for a quick election.

But it is fair to say that the advent of the COVID crisis has been a bit of a blessing in disguise for the Horgan government at least from a partisan perspective, with no Question Periods, little examination of line-item spending plans and a complete deflating of any momentum the Greens' leadership contest might have generated and thus eroded some of the NDP's base of voters.

The advent of the COVID crisis also has sort of smothered the voice of B.C. Liberal Party leader Andrew Wilkinson, who in recent weeks has been reduced to sending letters to newspapers while some of his MLAs such as Norm Letnick fraternize with some of Horgan's Ministers and MLAs in the worthy cause of helping to inform citizens about the resources available to help B.C. people cope with COVID19. 

The Horgan regime has been a bit slow in sending out aid to people in need but some is coming and meanwhile Crown corporations - notably B.C. Hydro and ICBC - have been trying to be helpful to their customers with challenges.
While we haven't seen any recent public opinion polls on what has been happening to support levels for the B.C. Greens, the evidence suggests there is a massive lack of interest in who that party should choose to succeed academic Andrew Weaver as leader; he stepped down due to family issues.

It seems the COVID factor is throwing curve balls into B.C. politics in several ways, such as blowing away the former (and false) mantra that the only issue that matters is the environment in general and fighting climate change in particular, but now we know that was not really a true existential crisis and compared with COVID is merely at best a smokescreen of many other more important issues such as jobs, housing, health and other human and family needs.

BC Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry (L)
and BC Health Minister Adrian Dix (R)
Indeed the media focus on COVID-related issues probably has been a benefit to the Horgan New Democrats, for example putting more focus on the very competent Health Minister Adrian Dix and the widely well-regarded B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry rather than on say beleagured former cabinet minister Jinny Sims - but it also looks good on Horgan that he was willing and able to let his Minister Dix take the lead on COVID in contrast to what has happened in say Ontario and Quebec where the Premiers were forefront. Horgan does know what's going re COVID but he's smart enough to let Dix and Henry do their jobs.

It helps a lot, of course, that B.C.'s data on its incidence of COVID cases is among the best in North America, if not the world, and some of that is thanks to B.C.'s far-sighted own B.C. Centre for Disease Control which apparently did its own early studies of the Wuhan breakout and thus persuaded B.C.'s health care system to be prepared when it was still early in the battle.

But eventually B.C. voters will judge the Horgan New Democrats surely in large part on how they handled COVID: was the help for small businesses adequate? did they distribute enough cash fast enough to families and people in need? - but also on other issues, especially jobs, taxes, resources, environment, education, seniors - and demographically seniors may be the largest and most influential voting bloc of all in the next B.C. election.

Has there been enough help for seniors' housing and homecare? What should be done for or about the homeless and the unhouseable? Those are the kinds of issues that will drive voter decisions, moreso than whether 0.04% CO2 is an existential threat (it isn't).

No doubt there will be accusations that the Horgan New Dems ran up the debt too much but the recently-released affirmation of B.C.'s relatively excellent handling of its economy and debt ratios probably will prevent the Liberals from making that a major concern; thanks to B.C. Finance Minister Carole James the province still has the best credit rating among Canada's provinces!

With B.C. also having what appears to be the best response to the COVID crisis among Canadian provinces it's difficult to imagine what could derail Horgan's re-election but of course in B.C. politics one should never say never.

The date for the next B.C. election could come anytime Horgan asks for one (since it's unlikely the Liberals could form a new coalition) but if some health issues forced a byelection or two that could change.

One possibility to watch is how well or poorly the B.C. Conservative Party will do in coming months; they chose a new leader last year but he has not yet become a household name and so is not likely to carve away many Liberal votes.

It's similarly important to watch what happens to the B.C. Green Party because the NDP needs lots of "green" votes if it realistically hopes to retain power - to boost their popular vote.

There could be other parties emerge, and other issues and factors, but if an election was held today . . . how would YOU vote?

You'll have a few extra months to mull that question because when the Legislature recently shifted B.C. to a four-year mandate, down from five, the MLAs also shifted the election window to October, so the next election must be called for a date no later than in October 2021, but it might come sooner.

John Twigg is a long-time independent journalist and occasional partisan activist now based in Campbell River.


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