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Byelection by the summer

Rob Shaw: John Horgan has called the byelection widely expected to give new BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon a seat in the legislature.
MatthewRoberge /

New BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon will get a chance to win a seat in the legislature this month and begin his duties as opposition leader in the house before the end of the spring session.

Premier John Horgan called a byelection in Vancouver-Quilchena on April 30, setting the stage for a race in what has traditionally been one the safest BC Liberal seats in the province.

Falcon is widely expected to win – it would be a stunning upset if he does not. If he does, one of the first people he should thank is Premier Horgan for choosing to call the byelection early and with enough time to allow Falcon to participate in the spring session.

Horgan did not have to do this. The law gives him six months from the resignation of MLA Andrew Wilkinson, and if the premier had wanted, he could have run out the clock until Aug. 17, leaving the BC Liberals in a perpetual state of readiness, shedding money on a campaign team and office for another four months without any knowledge of when the vote would actually start, while also shutting Falcon out of the spring legislative session.

But Horgan, in a classy move, signalled very early on that he would play that kind of game.

“I know that in the past governments have held off on calling byelections in non-incumbent constituencies,” Horgan said in February. “That's not anything that I plan to do…. I believe that people deserve representation in the legislature, and we're going to call that byelection certainly before the House rises. The seat will be filled before the House rises for the summer.”

One of the worst examples of political pettiness on this subject was in 2015, when Vancouver-Mount Pleasant NDP MLA Jenny Kwan resigned to run successfully as the region’s MP. Then BC Liberal premier Christy Clark left the BC NDP hanging for the full six months, while also leaving the poorest riding in the province, which encompasses the downtown eastside, without an MLA until the last possible minute.

There was no reason to do that, other than spite. And it was a good example of how it would make much more sense to give Elections BC the power to call byelections, rather than leave the option up to the premier of the day.

Regardless, here we are now.

After Horgan announced the Vancouver-Quilchena byelection, the BC NDP also named their candidate: Jeanette Ashe, the chair of the political science department at Douglas College.

Although a political newcomer, she appears on paper to be a solid opponent for Falcon, with a PhD in politics and government. She’s also the wife of Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart, himself a former federal NDP MP. She was acclaimed as the party candidate.

The likelihood Ashe actually wins is low, but a high-exposure byelection against the leader of the BC Liberals will boost her name recognition, give her experience and make her a formidable candidate for the BC NDP in another riding in the next general election.

The BC Greens, meanwhile, have named emergency management expert Wendy Hayko as their candidate.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 13 years covering BC politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for The Orca. He is the co-author of the national best-selling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.

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