Alberta Politics
B.C. Premier John Horgan (not at yesterday’s news conference) with B.C. Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry (Photo: Government of British Columbia).

Riding high in the polls, B.C.’s New Democrat premier calls a snap election — the right, predictably, whinges

Posted on September 22, 2020, 2:50 am
6 mins

VICTORIA — Strangely, all those conservatives who are anxious to get us back to school and business as soon as possible didn’t seem to be very happy yesterday when B.C. Premier John Horgan called a snap election for Oct. 24.

Supporters of B.C. political parties other than Mr. Horgan’s New Democrats seemed to be lining up to get on the lunch-hour radio talk shows to complain that the middle of a pandemic is no time to call an election — at least when the NDP is surfing a series of good polls, including one that says Mr. Horgan is the most popular premier in Canada.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

But as Mr. Horgan pointed out, we’re going to be in the middle of a pandemic next year too and, as he put it, “that’s why I believe we need to have an election now.”

He has been running the province — quite well by most accounts — on the narrowest of Parliamentary margins, supported by the B.C. Greens, who recently elected a new leader and may or may not be the same party they were back in 2017.

So now’s the time, he argued, so get a mandate to carry the province, steady as she goes, through the continuing storm.

The local Postmedia newspapers, accordingly, were doing their best to stir up outrage that Mr. Horgan is pulling the plug on the agreement he signed with the Greens back in 2017 to wait until October 2021 before going to the polls.

I don’t think anyone accused him of “playing politics,” but I could have sworn I heard a reporter at the noon hour news conference in the Victoria suburb of Langford, which Mr. Horgan represents in the Legislature downtown, accusing the premier of an “opportunistic power grab” — although that seems like a bit of a stretch since he’s already in power.

I don’t recall hearing such complaints from the right when New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, who nowadays is a Conservative, did pretty much the same thing last month, calling a snap election in the middle of a pandemic and thereby arranging to be resoundingly re-elected with a majority government on Sept. 14.

That can happen when a first minister decides to roll the dice with an early election. It can go right, as it did for Mr. Higgs, and it can go spectacularly wrong as it did for Progressive Conservative premier Jim Prentice in Alberta in 2015 or New Democrat Dave Barrett in 1975 — which was so long ago that probably nobody remembers it except me.

The late Jim Prentice, the last Progressive Conservative Premier of Alberta (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

That’s the thing about the Parliamentary system. It presents opportunities now and again, and political parties, even social democratic ones, can be expected to try to capitalize on them.

But when you hear B.C.’s underwhelming Liberal leader, Andrew Wilkinson, complaining that Premier Horgan is being cynical, self-serving, and selfish for calling an election just because he can win it, that’s almost a concession of defeat right there.

Alberta’s United Conservative Party Premier Jason Kenney will doubtless be a good sport and try to find a way to support the B.C. Liberals, who are really Conservatives. If something embarrassing happens in Alberta, he may even slip away to British Columbia to do a little fund-raising for the Libs, as he did in 2017 when too many Albertans started asking tough questions about the UCP’s call to out students in gay-straight alliances.

Dave Barrett, B.C.’s NDP premier in the 1970s (Photo: Fred Schiffer, Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia).

But I suspect he’d be just as happy if Mr. Horgan’s New Democrats won another term — a conservative would be just as hard to work with on the pipeline file, and it could get considerably more embarrassing if a fight erupted between Alberta and a right-wing B.C. government each spouting the same market fundamentalist rhetoric.

In other words, much the same dynamic is at play on the eastern slopes of the Rockies as in 2018, when NDP Premier Rachel Notley announced her short-lived boycott of B.C. wine in the same pipeline fight with B.C., by then inconveniently ruled by a fellow New Democrat.

That must never happen again, now that the New York Times has declared B.C. wine to be almost as good as France’s, and maybe even better if you buy from the right vineyard. But that, as they say, is another story.

NOTE: I’ll be back in Alberta next week, and I expect to resume regular blogging about Alberta politics immediately. DJC

15 Comments to: Riding high in the polls, B.C.’s New Democrat premier calls a snap election — the right, predictably, whinges

  1. Dave

    September 22nd, 2020

    I suppose it is not a surprise that an election is coming in BC, especially after the New Brunswick election showed that it could be done fairly safely and without too many problems despite all the unique challenges of our times.

    After a sort of blackout period of almost 6 months for COVID, it is not surprising there is a bit of a backlog for elections now and BC will be the second of three likely soon (with Saskatchewan being the third) this fall before winter. Interestingly, two of those three have Conservative governments, so the possible arguments of BC Conservatives or whatever they call themselves that this is no time for an election seems contradicted by Conservatives elsewhere.

    I suppose in all three cases there are reasonable arguments for an election. BC and New Brunswick were both minority governments with no votes to spare and in Saskatchewan the time limit for the term is coming up. I suppose if the kids are back in school and most businesses are open, surely we can also safely manage an election. Of course, New Brunswick was an easier case, as Atlantic Canada was not hit as hard by COVID before the lock down seemed to halt it, at least for a while. Of course it doesn’t hurt that the political calculations there were that the government could improve its position, there were some leadership changes in other parties and enough time had passed since the last election, so as not too seem too soon. I suppose this also applies to BC, but not as much to the Federal situation, so perhaps these three provincial elections will be all we get this year. With a potential second wave of COVID coming, perhaps the next month or so might be the last calm before the storm we get for a while, so perhaps in hindsight the timing will also look good in that regard.

    I was in BC recently. It sure was a nice break from all the economic and political gloom that is Alberta and their government generally seems a bit more prudent and careful in handling the COVID situation than Alberta. I suspect the election call will probably work out ok for the BC government and BC.

    Reply
    • Mike in Edmonton

      September 24th, 2020

      It’s not uncommon under the Westminster system for a governing party to call a snap election when they’re on a roll. It’d be a bit off-putting in Canada, with the example of the US next door with their fixed election dates, but it’s neither illegal nor unconstitutional. It shouldn’t even be unexpected, especially for a minority government. (I personally think Justin’s playing with fire if he calls an election now, but that’s a story for another time.)

      Lord it must be nice to have a premier who’s not a Con troll. Roll on 2023!

      Reply
      • Lulymay

        September 27th, 2020

        It wouldn’t be so bad if he was a “Progressive” Con, but he is a Reformer through and through, and therein lies the quagmire for all Albertans, not just the ones who worship at the feet of St. Jason. Besides, if he even “thinks” (I know, I know) that he has a chance at the Federal leadership, he’ll dump you folks in a Jason Kenny second.

        Reply
  2. Political Ranger

    September 22nd, 2020

    C’mon back Dave!

    Nothing much has changed; same ol’ regular mind-numbing ignorance and soul-deadening acceptance of corruption as always.
    Great place for “regular blogging”!

    Reply
  3. Anonymous

    September 22nd, 2020

    This is quite a surprise. The last thing BC needs is more Liberals, (who in essence are Conservatives) running the show and causing more problems. We have seen the big disaster the UCP has made in Alberta.

    Reply
  4. Just Me

    September 22nd, 2020

    It’s rare that B.C. has a premier who is not only competent, but likeable. Horgan has been a revelation.

    Christy Clarke was a full-on right-wing nut who hid behind yoga sessions. Now even a semi-competent Downward Dog could hide the fact that she was a raging neocon, not to mention throughly thoughtless about the welfare of others.

    Meanwhile, Alberta endures their own Christy Clarke in Jason Kenney.

    Not only does Kenney’s stridently zealotry make him throughly unlikable, his relentless desire to torture and punish his enemies, both real and imagined, moves him into the realm of sociopathic leadership.

    Reply
  5. Rodger

    September 22nd, 2020

    “He has been running the province — quite well by most accounts…”

    As a former NDP supporter (votes and $) resident in BC, I disagree with this opinion. The Horgan NDP have sorely disappointed on many fronts; the most egregious betrayal for me being the massive subsidization of the LNG climate bomb. A more complete list of their record can be found at https://thenarwhal.ca/bc-election-ndp-environmental-promises/…it is not a good record in my view.

    Better than the Liberals…absolutely, but still a big disappointment. I have moved my support (votes and $) to the Greens. I have my fingers crossed for another minority government with the Greens holding the balance of power with six seats!

    Reply
    • Death and Gravity

      September 23rd, 2020

      I agree there is very little to support the enthusiastic, even crazed pursuit of natural gas in the NE of BC, which has converted one of Canada’s last chunks of wilderness south of 60 into a copy of northern Alberta. People should look at a map sometime…google earth is very revealing.

      On the other hand, there are people who live there, who do need employment…although how many of the workers actually live in the region is another thing. The bigger Q is the lower mainland. They may consider themselves all green and cycle friendly, but stand in a high place some time, and look at the traffic over the bridges….or just try riding in the city. In that regard, I have a condo in YVR, and I can tell you that there is no so much as a power point in the entire underground parking lot. What do you suppose my chances would be of getting my fellow owners to spring for installation of charging stations for electric cars? If you think it’s above, 0, guess again. And the entire city is that built that way.

      What I’m saying is, the electorate is not on board with the changes that need to happen, so blaming the NDP for selling us out is unhelpful. They have to win elections to do anything at all, and the “Liberals” are one recession or one gasoline tax away from winning another election. And the three or four elections after that if the past is any guide. It’s a big bad problem. Maybe when the North Shore forests burn down to the water, people will smarten up, but then it will pretty much be too late.

      Reply
  6. Jim

    September 23rd, 2020

    Likely not just something you suspect, Kenney needs someone to blame for the mess he has made. The constant Trudeau is bad noise is getting a little old with all but the most extreme zealots. Sure Trudeau is bad but have a look at the alternatives, good bye frying pan hello fire. We are approaching the point where Liberal corruption is so bad they need to be put on the sidelines for awhile but none of the other parties have presented leaders.

    Reply
  7. Scotty on Denman

    September 23rd, 2020

    Most governing leaders call snap elections to improve their parties’ position, often a calculation based on catching loyal opposition rivals with their pants down. Fixed-election dates were implemented by parties of the right after the wily PM Jean Chrétien caught the hapless Stockwell Day in such a condition. The ‘liberal-left’ should never be allowed to “play politics” with election dates ever again, roared the embarrassed Reform-a-CRAP-a-Con Alliance when Chrétien’s Liberals sailed in snappy fashion to his third mandate after governing barely three years into his second. Outrageous!—thundered red-faced conservatives, but the Governor granted Chrétien’s request to dissolve parliament early on a very sound basis: the loyal opposition—the ‘government-in-waiting’— must be prepared at all times to assume power at moment’s notice and, with a substantial part of Day’s caucus sitting as “independent conservatives” in protest over his antics and ineptitudes, Chrétien could reasonably argue an early general election was required to rectify the opposition’s obvious unreadiness. As arcane as that rationale might have been, it certainly stung the right whose heady days of promising Reform prospects suddenly lost steam when founder Preston Manning tried to re-unite his Reformers with the remnant Progressive Conservative Party he helped to destroy. So, ASAP, right-wing governments created the fixed-election date law ostensibly to prevent politicians from playing politics in the place we pay them to do just that, but which could be overridden by conservative politicians if a political play seemed to their advantage. This inadvertent but abiding hypocrisy-meter shows how the right is copacetic with laws for show and ready chauvinism—but it couldn’t very well be called ‘wily’.

    Neither could ‘wily’ very well describe Premier Prentice’s early election call: it was rather his own PCs who were caught with their pants down—in fact, it looked like one right-wing party was squeezed into one trouser-leg, and another in the other leg. Thus, not only had Prentice offended the right’s very own hypocritometric fixed-election date law, he also failed to take proper stock of his opposition’s readiness to govern. Not only did the eventual winner find math not all that hard, she didn’t always wear pants —except figuratively as leader of her party, then of her province.

    Yes, I suppose Horgan is playing politics with his snap election, but he hasn’t lost sight of what has always been the prime directive for his party: keep the BC Liberals out of power until their 16 years of stealthy, ideological sabotage of the public apparatus can be forensically discovered and, yes, politically revealed as perfidious and harmful to all British Columbians, hopefully convincingly enough to win another mandate, perhaps a majority, with which to continue fixing well-armoured BC Liberal sabotages, a process that was always going to take more than four years. If it keeps the BC Liberals out, I’m all for playing politics in this way.

    Allowing the Greens to elect their new leader before calling the snap election was probably less altruistic than a political courtesy: Horgan knows she’s hardly had time to put her stamp on the party yet —an impediment for her he can take advantage of. But, putting vote-splitting and potential for another NDP minority alliance with the Greens aside, whether a seat is won by either party is less important than keeping as many seats as possible from going BC Liberal. And Horgan’s assessment of this loyal opposition is by far the most important factor in calculating the timing of an early election: after decades of incessantly cultivating a public caricature of the NDP as the “Party of No” which promotes idealistic environmentalism over practical resource development, the BC Liberals have been suspiciously quiet ever since the Green-Dipper alliance toppled their minority in a parliamentary vote of non-confidence. And it’s not simply that the BC Liberals have lost use of ubiquitous, publicly funded government propaganda capacity (which Campbell expanded several fold on Day-One of the 16-year regime); rather it has to do with fear of what the NDP has gleaned of their record during the last three years it has been in possession of this treasure trove. Perhaps corroborating this speculative, BC Liberal leader Wilkinson has delayed releasing his party’s platform for almost two weeks after the writ was dropped —almost as if he’s waiting to see what the NDP will spring on his party from the trove of perfidy the BC Liberals so generously left them. Still, there are only thirty-odd days before the election, with many opportunities to vote early, and all Wilkinson’s got is fuzzy, personal ad hominem of the Premier: that he’s somehow ethically bereft for calling a snap election when the BC Liberals pants are down and loaded with some very embarrassing, stinky stuff.

    DJC might be correct: Wilkinson might have effectively thrown in the towel, perhaps opting for a passive campaign that won’t risk a worse shellacking by provoking the NDP with a more active attack.

    Reply
  8. Albertan

    September 24th, 2020

    There might be many of us Albertans who hope Kenney calls a snap election before 2023. Would a guy who’s the 2nd most unpopular premier in Canada and whose UCP party has dropped 17 points in the polls call a snap election though? 🙂

    Reply
  9. Mike in Edmonton

    September 24th, 2020

    Hmm…a false-flag right-wing politician accuses a left-wing politican of doing something that right-wing politicians do routinely. Who’da thunk it?

    Reply
  10. Rob

    September 25th, 2020

    I believe after the election and a NDP majority the party will make some changes to their stand on fracking, Site C and LNG. Site C is the albatross around their necks and with all the reports of mega cost overruns and potential dam failure they may see the forest for the trees (hopefully!).

    Reply
  11. Just Me

    September 26th, 2020

    A matter that may be of interest to Michelle Rempel-Garner, the CPC MP for the great state of Oklahoma, it seems that a recent SCOTUS decision may have rendered the state of Oklahoma a non-existent entity as a state of the Union, effectively ceding governance to Oklahoma’s First Nations leadership.

    Of course, this whole matter involves the US government honoring the treaties and the laws of American First Nations, in this case, a substantial percentage of the lands of the great state of Oklahoma, including the City of Tulsa.

    One wonders about what sort of crazy newly minted Okie, Michelle Rempel-Garner, will be bringing back to Canada’s peaceable kingdom.

    Reply
  12. jerrymacgp

    September 30th, 2020

    I feel the expression “snap election” is overused. In a democracy, governments must face the people on a regular basis. The Constitution sets an upper limit on the life of a Parliament or a provincial legislature of five (5) years, although Canada’s electoral history tends to demonstrate that voters punish governments that try to stretch their mandates to the outer limit of that cap — viz. Trudeau père, 1974-79. But as long as a government retains the confidence of the house, it can indeed govern as long as it wants up until that 5-year limit, and can decide for itself when to ask for dissolution. Four years, give or take a few months, has been the norm for most majority governments since the end of the 2nd World War, but it isn’t written in stone anywhere, except for those silly “fixed election date” laws in some provinces. But minority governments are another matter.

    Canada does not have a tradition of coalition governments — federally, at least, the last one was the Unionist Borden Government of 1917-19, brought into being to implement conscription in the First World War, which included both Conservatives & anglophone Liberals, but excluded Quebec francophone Liberals, implacably opposed to conscription. I haven’t done the kind of deep dive into arcane Canadian political history to determine with certainty when was the last coalition government at the provincial level, but I feel fairly confident it’s been a very long time since there’s been one.

    Instead, our minority governments tend to either stumble along issue by issue, hoping for support from at least one opposition party to last long enough that they can call another election after a decent interval & try to get a majority — or, less often, they set up these “confidence & supply” agreements like we saw in New Brunswick & BC. Neither of those options is truly stable, and both run the risk of having the government lose a confidence vote and trigger a true “snap election”. But if a government feels it has outlasted its mandate, and needs to go to the people for a new one, it is perfectly legitimate for it to decide to call an election even without being defeated.

    One more thing: if the US had “responsible government” instead of “separation of powers”, the Trump Administration would have long ago fallen on a non-confidence motion in the House of Representatives, which would only have needed a simple majority to pass. Do we really want to move closer to their system?

    Reply

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