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Scenes from a big news day

Never dull, BC politics delivered a rollercoaster on Monday.
Premier John Horgan refuses to indicate whether he’s planning a snap election. (BC Government Flickr)

You've heard it once, you've heard it dozens of times: BC politics is never boring. And you hear it so often because it's true. But even by BC's frenetic standards, Monday was extraordinary.

Item the First: They’re really doing this, aren’t they?

Since about mid-summer, the dominant theme of BC’s political scene has been early election speculation.

Asked a direct yes/no question about persistent early voting rumours by CTV’s Robert Buffam, Premier John Horgan was yet again evasive.

“We’ve always been ready for an election campaign,” said Horgan.

“We’ve been preparing for the eventuality of an election since Day One, and I expect all other political parties will be doing that as well.”

Yeah, about that: no other political parties have the ability to trigger an election – and he’s behaving as though he’s made the decision to go. The evidence is quickly piling up:

  • Elections BC is scrambling to hire people and book facilities.
  • The NDP are also scrambling to ensure candidates are lined up and in place – even if it means rushing, and alienating local organizations. (The riding association in Fraser-Nicola resigned en masse after NDP headquarters appointed a different candidate than they wanted – and pledged to work against him.)
  • The NDP government has been busy making announcements for projects already announced, such as the Broadway SkyTrain extension.
  • Global’s Richard Zussman reported that Horgan has been assured by constitutional experts that the Lieutenant-Governor must accept his request for an election, even if it violates both the agreement he made with the BC Greens, and BC’s fixed election date law.

Item the Second: Two more cabinet ministers exit the fray

Indigenous Affairs and Reconciliation Minister Scott Fraser, and Forests, Lands, and Natural Resources Operations Minister Doug Donaldson both announced they wouldn’t be running again. They joined Social Development and Poverty Reduction Minister Shane Simpson, and Finance Minister Carole James.

Neither Fraser nor Donaldson have been particularly strong performers in cabinet. Donaldson’s mishandling of the caribou protection plan caused no less than Vaughn Palmer to call for his demotion, and Fraser was plagued by the Wet’suwet’en protests, even allowing protesters barricading the legislature in the building; they refused to leave after their meeting.

Donaldson will likely be replaced by former MP Nathan Cullen – which may create a problem for the NDP’s equity mandate which requires male MLAs to be replaced by a woman or “equity-seeking man.” Fraser’s successor isn’t known yet, but some sources hint Tofino mayor Josie Osborne could be interested.

Item the Third: Green Day

After a long campaign, put on ice over the summer due to the pandemic, Sonia Furstenau emerged as the new leader of the BC Green Party.

The only MLA to run, Furstenau was the favourite from day one – but the race was actually quite tight. Vancouver lawyer Cam Brewer finished a close second, which was interesting in that he was associated with former leader (and member) Andrew Weaver – who despite joining Brewer’s advisory team, took pains not to officially endorse anyone, but whose criticism of Furstenau has been both public and pointed.

(Worth pointing out: Furstenau’s campaign director Jillian Oliver was not only pregnant during the campaign, but actually gave birth. I report this for no other reason than astonishment.)

Furstenau’s first appearance as leader came less than two hours after Horgan all-but-confirmed he intends to break the Confidence and Supply Agreement he and Furstenau signed, and seek an early election. She was unsparing in her remarks, calling it “reckless,” and telling Horgan he has a “responsibility to govern, not play politics.”

Furstenau is in a tough spot, both locally and provincially.

Her riding, Cowichan Valley, had been a fairly safe NDP seat, but internal strife (much like Fraser Nicola this week) created an opening for her in 2017. That said, the local Green vote share had been steadily increasing election over election, and Furstenau had good name recognition after leading a visible conservationist movement in Shawnigan Lake.

Provincially, the Greens will have to find ways to take credit for accomplishments they like and disavow things they don’t. A tricky enough balancing act with time to plan – but it seems Furstenau and her team will have to learn on the fly.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca