After weeks of speculation, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan has made official the worst kept secret in the province: British Columbians are heading to the polls.
Horgan announced Monday he had called an election for Oct. 24 after meeting with Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin and asking her to dissolve the legislature.
“I’ve struggled mightily with this decision and it did not come easily to me,” said Horgan, acknowledging the controversy of calling an early election during a global pandemic.
But he said that with COVID-19 expected to be a fact of life for the next year, an election made sense now.
“We can either delay that decision and create uncertain and instability over the 12 months…. or we can do what I believe is always the right thing, and ask British Columbians what they think.”
The announcement comes after weeks of speculation that Horgan would call an election just over three years into his mandate, and it comes after six cabinet ministers announced their retirements in the past seven days.
The NDP currently have 41 seats in the legislature, as do the opposition B.C. Liberal Party, while the Green Party has two.
How did we get here?
Horgan has led a minority government since July 2017, after his New Democratic Party and the B.C. Green Party teamed up to defeat the B.C. Liberal Party in a confidence vote following a May election with no clear decision.
Since that time, he has led the province with the support of the Green Party and a mutual Supply and Confidence Agreement and has passed legislation enacting a fixed election date for October 2021.
But in recent weeks, the NDP has nominated candidates in key ridings, while several cabinet ministers have suddenly announced they would not run in an election, with the premier arguing the province found itself in unique circumstances.
“Nowhere in that [written agreement with the Green Party] will you see the word pandemic,” said Horgan in mid-September, refusing to rule out an early election.
Up in the polls
Horgan will attempt to become the first two-term NDP premier in B.C. history and heads into the campaign with his party up in the polls and with the highest personal approval rating of any premier in Canada, according to recent surveys by Angus Reid.
In recent weeks, the B.C. Liberal Party and the Green Party have criticized Horgan for considering an election during a global pandemic.
While British Columbia received plaudits for its initial containment of the virus, cases of COVID-19 have surged in recent months, and the effects of students returning to class are still not fully known.
“Who wants an election right now? Because I haven’t come across a single British Columbian who’s pushing for one other than John Horgan,” said B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson on Sept. 10
“To John Horgan, I say: ‘You have a responsibility to govern, not play politics,'” said Sonia Furstenau, minutes after being chosen as the B.C. Green Party’s new leader on Sept. 14.
A number of longtime MLAs have said they won’t be seeking re-election, including NDP cabinet ministers Carole James, Judy Darcy, Shane Simpson, Michelle Mungall, Doug Donaldson, Claire Trevena and Scott Fraser. Liberals Rich Coleman and Linda Reid, and former Green Party leader Andrew Weaver have also said they will not run again.