Newly elected B.C. Green Leader Sonia Furstenau says her party will be ready for a potential snap election call this fall, but insisted Tuesday that there is no reason for NDP Premier John Horgan to send British Columbians to the polls one year ahead of schedule.
“John Horgan should not be calling an unnecessary election in the midst of a global pandemic,” Ms. Furstenau said at a news conference after her second-ballot victory in the Green leadership contest.
“It is astonishing to think of the Health Minister and the Education Minister not working with the Provincial Health Officer, but being on a campaign trail right now.”
Since the 2017 provincial election, the Greens have formally supported the minority NDP government in B.C. through a written agreement between the two parties. While the province remains in a state of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Horgan has fuelled election speculation by suggesting the pact is no longer binding.
“Nowhere in that document will you see the word ‘pandemic.’ So the world we live in today is not the world of 2017,” the Premier told reporters on Sunday.
The Confidence and Supply Agreement, signed by both parties, was supposed to ensure stability of the minority government. The Greens agreed to support the New Democrats on key legislation such as the budget, and in turn the NDP promised no snap election.
“The Leader of the New Democrats will not request a dissolution of the legislature during the term of this agreement, except following the defeat of a motion of confidence," the agreement says.
Ms. Furstenau said the current agreement has delivered the promised stability and has allowed the province to respond to the pandemic. Still, her party is preparing for an election call that could come in the next week.
“Of course we’ve been building teams, connecting with candidates, connecting volunteers. We are a much stronger and a much more ready-to-go party,” she said.
It is an ill-kept secret that the New Democrats are mulling a fall election, lured by the chance to secure a majority of seats that would relieve them of their obligations to consult with their Green partners, who have periodically threatened to withdraw their support over the past three years.
The Horgan government is set to unveil its $1.5-billion pandemic recovery plan this week, which could provide a launch pad for a political campaign to secure a new mandate. As well, over the past week the government has made a series of good-news announcements, including new primary health care and cancer screening services and protection of old-growth forests.
That all helps set the stage for a fall election campaign in which the New Democrats would hope to secure, finally, a majority government. But it would be entirely the Premier’s choice, as there is nothing forcing his hand.
Provincial legislation sets the next B.C. election date on Oct. 16, 2021. The law does not prevent the Premier from seeking an earlier date at the polls, however, Elections BC has already started preparations for the next provincial vote on the assumption that pandemic conditions will continue to be a challenge.
Elections BC is promising more advance voting opportunities and increased use of remote voting options, such as mail-in ballots, to protect voters' health.
Liberal Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson has called on the government to focus on the pandemic rather than on preparing for “an election no one wants.” His party’s executive director, Emile Scheffel, said the party has been ramping up its election readiness plans in recent weeks just in case. The election platform “is pretty much ready to roll out to voters,” he said, but the focus now is determining how to safely connect with voters without risking anyone’s health.
The larger question would be: How would Mr. Horgan justify calling an early election when his government is immersed in managing the health and economic effects of the pandemic?
The rate of new COVID-19 cases in the province is rising rapidly, just as students have returned to the classrooms for a new school year. Health officials are warning of a second wave when the fall flu season arrives.
Mr. Horgan’s personal popularity ratings are, according to a recent Angus Reid Institute poll, the highest among premiers in the country. Some of that support can be traced to his willingness to allow public-health officials to lead the COVID-19 response – he yielded the spotlight to the Provincial Health Officer and his Health Minister, especially in the early months of the pandemic.
The New Democrats would relish a chance to govern as a majority, after a rough summer legislative session where their Green partners stalled two bills. It was a reminder that the NDP’s hold on power is fragile.
The current legislature is made up of 41 New Democrats, 41 Liberals, two Greens and two Independents, with a by-election pending to fill one vacancy.
Mr. Horgan has been asking his MLAs if they intend to run again in the next election, prompting a string of announcements by those who intend to retire. That’s made way for some high-profile candidates to seek a nomination, from former NDP MP Fin Donnelly to Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne.
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