In the fall of 2020, the provincial election in British Columbia and the presidential election in the United States took place within a 15-day span.
The governing BC New Democratic Party (NDP) secured its first majority mandate of the century in a campaign that focused heavily on the management of COVID-19.
In April 2020, Canadians were particularly happy with the state of affairs, with 74 per cent telling Research Co. and Glacier Media that Canada had done a better job than the U.S. in dealing with the pandemic. Our country was collectively looking down at what the American government was trying to do with Donald Trump in the White House. This year, unless the provincial election is called early, we will see the campaigns in British Columbia and the United States happening at the same time.
At this point, there is no certainty about Trump’s presence on the ballot as the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in the United States. Pending court cases, and decisions related to the Fourteenth Amendment like the ones we have seen in Colorado and Maine, may compel the party to settle on a different contender. Current President Joe Biden is not facing a similar challenge in the Democratic Party. The road ahead will be difficult for the independent bids by Robert Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West.
Some might assume that what transpires south of the 49th parallel will not have an effect inside our province. They would be wrong. There has already been a hint of where the provincial campaign could go, as far as values and commitments to specific causes, in the year-end statements made by Premier David Eby. The BC NDP leader referred to the Conservative Party of BC as “a threat to the province’s prosperity” – a clear indication of who the government perceives to be its main ideological rival in 2024.
With 39 per cent of the province’s residents primarily concerned about housing, homelessness and poverty, the policies announced by the provincial government will be carefully analyzed and deconstructed. The Conservatives have tried to position themselves as the true opposition. A late December press release on the possible use of the notwithstanding clause to “bring back safe streets for families” was particularly bold for a party with two representatives in the legislative assembly, neither of whom was elected under their current banner. At the same time, BC United has channeled the attitude of the BC Liberals of a decade ago, concentrating its criticism on the provincial government’s CleanBC plan and re-issuing a pledge to go “all-in” on liquefied natural gas (LNG).
We can also expect some activity in federal and municipal politics. Nothing suggests that the federal election will happen before the scheduled date of 2025, and there have been no hints of a succession plan to choose a new leader of the Liberal Party. The federal NDP has something to celebrate with the introduction of a dental care program that was a key policy plank of campaigns past, while the Conservative Party enjoyed a sizable lead at the end of the year. Municipally, Vancouverites are set to figure out the future of the park board and Surrey residents may finally put discussions about policing behind.
Aside from politics, there are two topics that will surely capture the minds of the business community in the province. The first one is the development of artificial intelligence (AI). When we asked Canadians this past September, slightly more considered it a “threat” (46 per cent) than an “opportunity” (40 per cent) for humanity.
There have been other inventions that were regarded warily in their early stages, including motion pictures, video games and the internet. It will be important to see how Canadians begin to react to AI as it becomes more ubiquitous, especially with 77 per cent expressing concern about losing jobs to machines.
The second important topic is a long overdue conversation on the future of the office. This past summer, 23 per cent of British Columbian employees told us they were working from home less often than they would like to. One in five (19 per cent) have already abandoned a position because the new work-from-home arrangements were not to their liking.
Some companies have maintained the “flex days” that were introduced during the pandemic, but the appetite from workers to spend more time at home persists. This is still a crucial component of life for the youngest British Columbians. The idea of not having to reside in an expensive city if tasks can be fulfilled from a separate location remains appealing.
The wildcard for all these political and financial matters is our economic standing. In July, British Columbians were more likely to rate their own finances as “very good” or “good” (60 per cent) than the national economy (42 per cent). Concerns about inflation remain high, particularly on the cost of groceries. If the province’s residents start to lose faith in their ability keep up with expenses, the opposition parties will look to pounce with proposals to make life more affordable.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.