Citing a need for long-term government stability and for British Columbians to have their say in what economic recovery looks like, B.C. Premier John Horgan announced today that the Lieutenant Governor has granted his request to dissolve parliament paving the way for an early general election on Saturday, October 24, with advance voting starting October 16.

This election comes one year ahead of the scheduled provincial election prescribed by British Columbia’s set election rules and amid worsening COVID-19 case numbers in the province. However, Premier Horgan said that while he grappled with the reality of prompting an election during a pandemic, he noted that we remain near the start of British Columbia’s COVID recovery and that it will still be with us for the foreseeable future. Horgan stated that continuing to govern under the previous mandate would lead to increased uncertainty and instability when the opposite is what is needed. Having an election now, he says, will better align the next government’s time in office with the multi-year recovery plan needed to address the economic and social challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. He also said that the B.C. Provincial Health Officer assured him an election can be held safely during a pandemic.

As always, your B.C. Hill+Knowlton team will be watching developments closely over the next month in order to provide you with up-to-date analysis of how this election call impacts your organization’s goals.

The Issues
There is no question that John Horgan and the NDP are seeking to make this election about getting a public mandate for the direction of economic recovery and whether British Columbians want John Horgan or Andrew Wilkinson to lead the province through the trying times ahead.

The wording of the NDP’s media advisory announcing the Horgan news conference clearly laid that out, stating “John Horgan will address how British Columbians deserve a say in our economic recovery and will decide the future of our province.” The Premier also referenced supporting the middle class several times in his remarks and to back that up with visuals, held his news conference in the cul-de-sac of a suburban Victoria neighborhood in his home riding as opposed to a more official or government looking setting.

COVID Concerns
Premier Horgan insists that although an election campaign and voting during a global pandemic is unique, it can be done safely. He noted several times that our recent spike in COVID-19 cases stem from people not following the rules. Horgan says he is confident that just like people are able to go to work safely every day or to the grocery store, that with protocols in place including additional mail-in voting options, that the election can be held safely. It should also be noted that because she is not running again, Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Carole James has been appointed to remain in her post working with the government and continuing to lead on COVID response during the campaign period.

MLA Turnover
Although the election itself will determine the make-up of the next session of the legislature, a large number of long-time MLA’s will not be on the ballot. There are now seven NDP MLA’s, including nearly one-third of John Horgan’s cabinet who are not running again along with seven BC Liberals, not to mention former BC Green Leader Andrew Weaver.

Opposition Reaction
Both BC Liberal Leader, Andrew Wilkinson and newly-minted BC Green Party Leader, Sonia Furstenau were quick to slam the NDP for prompting what they feel is an unnecessary early election.

Wilkinson told reporters that now is not the time for what he called, cynical politics and division and that the Premier chose politics over people.

Furstenau told reporters that she does not accept his claims that the power sharing agreement between her party and the NDP was unstable. She says that she met with the Premier last Friday and assured him he already had a stable government.

One other reaction of note came from the BC Teachers’ Federation. The union expressed concerns about the use of schools as voting places, as is usual practice, with the union saying school communities are already under pressure due to the pandemic and now is not the time to open schools up to members of the general public.

Campaigns Matter
Public opinion polling from early September suggested that the BC NDP has a large lead in popularity over the BC Liberals. It also found that Premier Horgan is the most popular Premier in Canada with approval ratings of almost 70 per cent. These and other polls strongly suggest that a BC NDP majority government is the most likely outcome of the upcoming vote.

However, the last two elections showed that campaigns matter and voters can occasionally shift their position based on what they see on the campaign trail. The profile of BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson and new BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau has been modest so far but media coverage and leaders’ debates will give voters the chance to evaluate them and their vision for the province. While expectations are low that the BC Conservative Party is likely to win a single seat, support their candidates manage to garner may impact the outcomes in a few tight races.