LANGFORD, B.C. —B.C. Premier John Horgan has called a provincial election for Oct. 24, putting the NDP’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic front and centre of his bid for a majority government.
Horgan said Monday he grappled with the idea of calling an election but there are significant health and economic challenges facing the province with an unstable minority government.
B.C. has a fixed election date set for October 2021, but he said to wait another year would be time wasted.
“I believe the challenges we face are not for the next 12 months but indeed for the next four years and beyond,” the NDP leader said at a news conference in his Victoria-area riding of Langford-Juan de Fuca.
The province’s minority NDP government took power in 2017 after signing an agreement with the Greens, but Horgan said political stability is needed and that is what he is seeking.
“I believe that stability will come by asking the people of British Columbia where they want to go and who they want to lead them.”
Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson and Green Leader Sonia Furstenau have questioned the need for an election during the pandemic.
Furstenau, who became the party’s leader a week ago, said Horgan put his political future and that of his government ahead of the people of B.C.
“This is an irresponsible and unnecessary election,” she told a news conference.
She also rejected Horgan’s claims that Green opposition to NDP legislation during the spring session of the legislature contributed to his decision to seek a new mandate, adding that the agreement the party signed “didn’t stipulate utter and total agreement with the NDP.”
“This is an irresponsible and unnecessary election.”
But Horgan said the issues of 2017 also aren’t the same as 2020, citing the global pandemic and the economic upheaval it has caused as examples of what has changed.
“I have never been more confident that this is the time to ask British Columbians where they want to go. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions.”
The NDP and B.C. Liberals were tied with 41 seats each when the legislature was dissolved by Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin. The Greens held two seats, there were two Independents and one seat was vacant.
Wilkinson, who became Liberal leader in 2018, said the election isn’t wanted by anyone in the province, except for the New Democrats.
“To make this completely clear: think about why we’re having this election. It’s not necessary,” Wilkinson told reporters. “The goal for the NDP is to secure their own employment. The picture here is we’ve got a government cynical enough to put us through a general election in the middle of a pandemic.”
Horgan said he’s been speaking with provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry about the pandemic, but didn’t consult with her about calling an election.
“The final decision rests with me and I take full responsibility for it.”
The number of cases of COVID-19 have been rising in the province as a new daily record for cases was set last Thursday.
But Horgan said the biggest problem over increasing COVID-19 numbers is people not following Henry’s directives over the last seven months.
“That is the challenge with respect to COVID-19, not whether or not we ask people to go to a polling place over the course of a number of days or if they’re uncomfortable with that, to vote from home.”
New Brunswick just concluded an election with 66 per cent turnout and Saskatchewan’s campaign will be underway in a few short days, so other jurisdictions are having elections, he said.
Horgan said Finance Minister Carole James will be administering the province until election day. She is one of seven NDP cabinet ministers not seeking re-election.
Horgan noted that seven Liberal members of the legislature are also not running again and former Green leader Andrew Weaver is leaving politics as well.
“So now is the best time, it seems to me, at the beginning of the pandemic to renew the legislature,” he said.
“I think we need new ideas from every corner of the province, regardless of where those ideas come from and now is the time to do that.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2020.
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