After weeks of speculation, cryptic candidate announcements and tight-lipped officials, the ballot box is out of the bag — British Columbians are heading to the polls on Oct. 24.
The snap provincial election is the third in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic, following the recently concluded New Brunswick election and the ongoing Saskatchewan race.
B.C. Premier John Horgan made the announcement from his home riding in Langford-Juan de Fuca on Monday, arguing that it was time for voters to give his government a new mandate.
“It’s never a bad idea to say to British Columbians, who do you want to lead you and where do you want to go,” he told reporters Monday.
But for many British Columbians, the election comes as a surprise, considering the province wasn’t set to go to the polls until next fall, according to a signed agreement between Horgan’s minority government and the Green Party. Throw in the global pandemic and concerns of accessibility for voters during the provincial state of emergency, and it’s a heck of a time to head to the ballot box.
But that’s what British Columbians will do on Oct. 24. Here’s what you need to know about the snap election and why it’s happening now.
When was the election scheduled to happen?
The 2017 provincial election resulted in an unprecedented result, with Horgan’s NDP taking 41 seats and the B.C. Liberal Party winning 43 seats. The Green Party won three seats, and entered into an agreement to prop up a minority NDP government.
That agreement, the Confidence And Supply Agreement (CASA), dictated that the Greens would vote with the NDP on all votes of confidence, typically throne speeches and budgets. On all other issues they would vote on their own.
Under CASA, both the NDP and Green agreed not to trigger an election until the next scheduled date, which was set for the fall of 2021.
Why is B.C. having an election now?
Last week ahead of election speculation, Horgan argued that the CASA was developed during a very different time, and didn’t apply in the same way now.
“When CASA … was created, we did not think that a global pandemic was something we would have to consider,” he said. “The situation today is not the situation last year or, certainly, 2017.”
On Monday, Horgan doubled down on the rationale. He argued that an election would give the NDP a new mandate to forge ahead with legislation, citing several examples from the summer where the agreement with the Greens wasn’t ideal.
“The stability that we had over the course of our minority government is not as strong as it was when we began,” he said.
Horgan said they can continue with a minority government for another year or “get it over with” and determine what the next four years will hold.
“I believe that we are involved in politics, we have been involved in politics for the past three and a half years,” he said. “I believe stability is what’s required not just for 12 months, but for the next four years. That’s what I’m asking British Columbians to support me about, and if they don’t, they don’t.”
A stable government is another word for a majority government. And the polls are certainly pointing toward that for Horgan’s NDP.
A September Angus Reid poll found that 48 per cent of decided voters polled would vote NDP, 29 per cent would vote for the B.C. Liberal party and 14 per cent would vote Green.
“An early election would, indeed, present Horgan and his party with quite the irresistible opportunity, should they choose to take it,” the pollsters said in a press release at the time.
Another poll saw Horgan rank as the most favourable premier in Canada, with a 69 per cent approval rating.
What do the other parties think?
Newly elected Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau called the decision “irresponsible.”
Furstenau said the election is “about Horgan and his party putting their fortunes ahead” of the province.
“He is out of touch with reality of most BCers right now,” she said.
Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson said Horgan was “putting politics over people” with the call.
“We need leadership, we need guidance,” he said Monday. “What are the values of a leader like John Horgan who would call an election during a pandemic?”
Wilkinson called the election “unnecessary.”
“The only reason for this election is to secure the jobs for the NDP,” Wilkinson said. “It’s unnecessary.”
What happens next?
The election date is set for Saturday Oct. 24.
B.C. Finance Minister Carole James will oversee the functioning of the government during the election period.
On Monday, B.C. chief medical officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province is preparing for the unique challenges of an election during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said Horgan did not consult her about calling the election, but that she didn’t expect him to.
“My role is to provide advice around the health of the population,” she said. “And that is what I will continue to focus on.”
Health Minister Adrian Dix will no longer participate in regular COVID-19 briefings, as he will be campaigning, Henry confirmed Monday. The briefings will continue regularly with just Henry going forward.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misidentified Horgan’s riding and the results of the 2017 election. In fact, Horgan’s riding is Langford-Juan de Fuca, not Langdale.