John Horgan returns to Victoria on Monday with the majority government he wanted, and a mandate to steer British Columbia through the challenges of the pandemic ahead.
While the final count of the ballots is weeks away, Mr. Horgan’s snap election allowed him to leave behind 3½ years of stickhandling a minority government as Premier. The preliminary results following Saturday’s general election had the NDP elected in 55 seats, a healthy majority in a legislature of 87. A significant number of mail-in ballots will not be counted until November, but Mr. Horgan said, until then, “there’s work to be done. I’m returning to Victoria, I’m going to get back to it.”
The NDP’s path to victory swept much of Metro Vancouver with new seats that have long been traditional strongholds of the right-of-centre Liberals, including in Richmond, Langley, North Vancouver, and Chilliwack. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson conceded the race on Sunday, and already faces internal dissent over his party’s poor showing. The Liberals dropped to 29 seats, while the Greens held three.
For the Horgan government, the challenges ahead are vast: Although Mr. Horgan benefitted from high approval of his government’s response to the pandemic to date, the second wave of COVID-19 arrived in the middle of the campaign. That has heightened concerns about the capacity of the health care system, the reopening of the kindergarten to Grade 12 school system, and the rough road ahead for the economy. With no hope for a widely distributed, effective vaccine on the horizon, the prospect of more job losses and bankruptcies remains high.
“I hope British Columbians understand that we are not unique here in British Columbia, the rest of the world is grappling with the same challenges we are,” Mr. Horgan told reporters on Sunday. “I believe the best way forward is to make sure that government is focused on the needs of individuals, businesses and communities, and we’re going to be able to do that coming into the fall and into next spring as we prepare a budget which will be again one of the most extraordinary budgets ever tabled in British Columbia.”
In addition, in the coming weeks the Premier will receive the findings of a review of the province’s most expensive infrastructure project in history, the half-built Site C dam. The review will look at geotechnical problems and escalating costs for the $10.7-billion hydroelectricity project that his government approved.
Meanwhile, the deficit is rising fast and the NDP has made expensive commitments on the campaign trail that must now be met.
One of the NDP’s central promises was a one-time cash payout of up to $1,000 for eligible British Columbians. On Sunday, the Premier could not say if the cheques will be delivered this year.
The final count in each of the 87 ridings won’t come before Nov. 16, and only then will the new government be sworn in. “I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to get back into the legislature [this year] but I don’t want to make a promise I may not be able to keep," Mr. Horgan said.
Just days before the election was called, the NDP government announced a $2-billion pandemic recovery plan, which includes 55 programs – a mix of grants, training programs and tax cuts. That promised relief has been tangled in red tape and has not flowed as promised. Business leaders warn it could come too late for some, particularly in tourism and hospitality.
Mr. Horgan tore up an agreement with the Greens that had allowed the prior minority government to far outlast expectations. His former partners in government abruptly became enemies, and his party campaigned hard to eliminate the Greens from the political map.
The Greens held steady with the support of roughly 16 per cent of voters, and after the initial count on the weekend had three seats, but will no longer have the balance of power as they did in the last parliament.
Sonia Furstenau, who was elected Green Leader just one week before the election was called, said there will be a different dynamic for her party now that it doesn’t have the balance of power, and access to cabinet material that came with that role.
“In some ways it’s what we have brought to the table rather than what was given at the table that mattered. We’re going to continue to bring those different perspectives, viewpoints, solutions and ideas,” she said.
Mr. Horgan said he hopes to rebuild non-partisan relations now that the election is done. “I’ll be influenced by good ideas wherever they come from. That’s how I’ve lived my life, and that’s how I expect the government for the next four years.”
Mr. Wilkinson, the Liberal Leader, did not speak to media on Sunday, but members of his party said the results call for party renewal.
BC Liberal Jas Johal, a former TV reporter defeated in his Richmond riding, said voters, in this weekend’s election, finished what they started in 2017 when the Liberals lost enough seats to be ousted from government after three consecutive terms.
“BC Liberals had three years to renew and we didn’t. In fact, the NDP showed more renewal in three weeks leading up to the election than we have shown in three years,” Mr. Johal said in an interview on Sunday.
As a result, “We got taken to the woodshed by B.C. voters and we got a thumping. Today is the first day of real renewal by the party.”
Former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts, who was defeated by Mr. Wilkinson in a 2018 bid to lead the BC Liberals, said the party faces a “long, long road” of rebuilding ahead. “They cannot go forward as the party they are today.”
Mary Polak, the Official Opposition House Leader defeated in her Langley riding after 15 years as an MLA, said the Liberals erred in working so closely with the NDP on pandemic response in the spring. “It might have been the wrong decision politically, and yet it was the right decision. The NDP did what they wanted with it and they have been rewarded with it.”
She said Mr. Wilkinson will have to decide on his future, and it is reasonable for him to wait until the final count as Liberals wonder if some seats could change. “Post final count, I am sure he will do a lot of soul-searching,” she said.
While there are still a number of seats that could change hands once the final ballots are counted, on Saturday it was clear the NDP has gained ground in traditional centre-right ridings. Mr. Horgan, who made history as the first two-term NDP premier in B.C., said the shift reflects his centrist approach to politics.
“It’s a tent that I deliberately constructed, I believe that New Democrat values are mainstream values,” he said Sunday. “That’s how you build big-tent politics, responding to the needs of people."
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