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The guns of October

Quick thoughts as BC plunges headfirst into a snap pandemic election.
The opening salvo in Victoria. (Derek Robbins /

So. We’re really doing this.

Today, Premier John Horgan confirmed BC’s worst-kept secret – we’re having an early election, on October 24.

Quick thoughts:

Casus belli

I’ve written on this before, but the NDP’s biggest problem is the reason for breaking their agreement and the fixed election date law: it’s not what they say.

Why is that a problem? Because everyone and their labradoodle knows the real reason: polls. Whenever Horgan says different, the average, non-partisan voter may wince, creating an undercurrent of mistrust.

Surprisingly, the NDP don’t seem to have landed on a single public reason to force the election - a line to stick to, reality be damned. Aside from general arguments about needing stability as the pandemic stretches on, Horgan pointed to several bills that were either defeated or amended by the Greens (the horror!) as proof positive CASA was essentially over and done with. (This argument looks flimsier given the NDP actually supported at least one of those amendments.)

Greens of Wrath

After three years in the legislature, Sonia Furstenau had earned a reputation for being perhaps the softest-spoken, most even-keel MLA in recent memory. Today, responding to Horgan’s decision to break CASA – and not even give his erstwhile Green partners a courtesy heads-up (or least before the news was public), her anger was palpable.

If she can sustain this tone of righteous indignation, it will be an interesting departure for Furstenau and her party. I am curious how Horgan will handle sustained, withering scorn from a sympathetic female leader, who can plausibly say she’s been lied to.

Who throws a shoe? Honestly!

In their first media availability, the BC Liberals took a different tack. Speaking after both Horgan and Furstenau, Wilkinson briefly outlined the case against an early election before introducing a selection of BC Liberal candidates.

While hinting a detailed platform is coming later in the week, Wilkinson focused on undermining what has been the NDP’s biggest advantage: Horgan’s brand.

“What kind of person does that in the middle of a pandemic – rip up a deal that would have led to stable government for a year – who does that?”

Mad dash

There will be scrambling to get candidates lined up in the next 72 hours, especially among the BC Liberals and Greens, who didn’t have the luxury of setting the date.

What this means is we can expect haste.

With less time to gather signatures, raise money, and be vetted by the party, candidates will be limited to those who knew or guessed this was coming, people with connections who can skip to the head of line, and the well-heeled. A rushed timeline raises already-too-high barriers to participating, and that’s a shame.

Less vetting also probably means more gaffes and social media misadventures will be unearthed during the campaign, so get ready for outrage at someone’s Halloween 2002 Tarzan and Jane couples costume.

Location, location, location

In the end, this election will come down to (probably) less than 10 ridings, and maybe 4,000 votes. How do we know that? Because most BC elections do.

As Mike McDonald shows, in 2017 fully 22 ridings were decided by a margin of less than 10% - and six by less than 5%. Barring some major surprises, that’s where the next government will be decided.

The NDP’s evident haste to move quickly hints that even they can’t quite believe their own data, and that their path to victory is only clear they go NOW THERE'S NO TIME GO NOW NOW. But it’s worth remembering that in 2017, almost everything broke right for them, and they won 41 seats. That was with BC Conservative candidates playing decisive roles in one or two of their wins, less likely now with small parties caught unready for a snap election.

That’s not to say the NDP can’t improve on their seat count – they gave themselves several institutional advantages, including a big head start, and more BC Liberal seats were close calls than NDP seats – but once again, a lot would have to go right.

Farewell, Speaker

Unless he changes his mind, runs again and somehow wins re-election both in Abbotsford and the legislature itself, this marks the end of Darryl Plecas’ tenure as Speaker. As much as Andrew Weaver, he’s a major reason why the NDP government lasted as long as it did.

Already controversial for resigning/being ejected from the BC Liberals (it’s still not clear which), Plecas became polarizing. He became a provincial figure for having the Clerk and Sergeant-at-Arms removed from the legislature, and seeing something amiss with antiquated systems of oversight. That, plus some legendarily tense press conferences and even tenser bouts of open warfare with the Official Opposition, dominated BC political news for months.

But Plecas also frequently said much bigger and darker issues would be revealed – big and dark enough to make people literally vomit. Instead, many of his assertions were questioned by BC’s then auditor-general and former Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, respectively. After a meteoric rise to the headlines, Plecas’ centrally visible public role just kind of petered out.

All that said, Plecas is one of many MLAs – including seven cabinet ministers – who chose not to run again. If nothing else, the snap election call deprives them of the customary farewells and tributes in the house.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca