Premier John Horgan heads to his ride following his announcement that there will be a fall election as he speaks during a press conference in Langford, B.C., on Monday September 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

In snap election, Horgan must prove COVID-19 track record to cynical voters: experts

NDP leader is ahead in the polls but calling election is a political risk

Calling an election as cases spike in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, B.C. Premier John Horgan will have to wait and see if voters stay in his corner on voting day, say political experts.

Horgan called a snap election Monday (Sept. 21) at a press conference in Langford, just three weeks after an Angus Reid Institute poll dubbed him the most popular premier in Canada. But will that stick?

“The government has managed the pandemic well,” said Richard Johnston, a professor emeritus in the department of political science at the University of B.C.

“Meanwhile, Mr. Horgan is a very deft campaigner … he managed to deal with the difficult questions [Monday] remarkably well.”

READ MORE: Citing stability, B.C. Premier calls snap election for Oct. 24

An Angus Reid Institute poll released Sept. 4 showed that 48 per cent of surveyed voters intended to vote NDP, compared to 29 per cent for the Liberals and 14 per cent for the Green Party.

When announcing the election, scheduled for Oct. 24, Horgan cited stability as a key reason, but acknowledged he “struggled mightily” with the decision.

“I cannot imagine 12 more months of bickering,” the premier said, referring to what would have been the scheduled date of the next election, October 2021.

However, regardless of whether parties will be able to avoid post-election bickering, Johnston said Horgan has set himself up for 34 days of just that.

“The messaging around politics has been controlled by government. Once you dissolve the legislature, that ceases to be true and you open up the floodgates for the opposition.”

Calling a snap election mid-pandemic can also create cynicism that could overshadow the NDP’s success so far in leading B.C. through the pandemic.

“We might see a drop in turnout just because people are disgusted,” Johnston said.

“There is a fear that policy towards the pandemic may be politicized.”

Gerald Baier, an associate professor in UBC’s political science department, said how voters view Horgan breaking the NDP’s minority government agreement with the Greens will depend on their partisan preferences.

“They’ll have grounds to be cynical. Certainly I think the Greens and the Liberals will keep that in mind for people. They’ll say ‘Look, this is an unnecessary election’ but at some point they have to change gears, too.”

However, Baier said the “instability” cited by Horgan at his election kick-off press conference was a bit “manufactured.”

“The reason why seven cabinet ministers said they aren’t going to run in the next election is because he asked them [if they would run]. So he kind of created a sense of instability.”

Helping Horgan will be that the 2020 election will focus largely on one issue, COVID-19, where Liberals may find it hard to differentiate their policy, Johnston said.

The other uncertainty is the pandemic itself. B.C. has seen an increase in cases in recent weeks, and 366 COVID-19 cases and four deaths over the weekend for a total of 8,208 cases and 227 deaths since the pandemic began. As of Monday morning, the province had the highest number of cases per capita, at 36 per 100,000, above the Canadian average of 26.

“If it explodes, even if the death rate doesn’t go up, I think that’s something that [Horgan] is going to have to wear.”

READ MORE: B.C. has highest number of active COVID-19 cases per capita, federal data shows


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

BC politicsBC Votes 2020Election 2020

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Voters in Saanich North and the Islands, here lining up outside Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre on the first day of advanced voting, are among the provincial leaders in getting in their votes early, with some 20 per cent (10,174) of eligible voters have already cast their ballots. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
It’s Election Day in B.C.: Here’s what you need to know to vote

B.C.’s snap election has already broken records for advance voter turnout, mail-in ballots

Shay Baker, 17, hasn’t been seen or heard from since Oct. 21 and is wanted on outstanding warrants. (Victoria Police Department)
Victoria police searching for high-risk missing youth

Shay Baker, 17, is wanted on outstanding warrants

Plastic Ocean by Oak Bay resident Gabriela Hirt is in the Federation of Canadian Artist’s “Crisis” exhibition on now in Vancouver. (Gabriela Hirt/cropped to fit)
Oak Bay artist wins juried show in Vancouver

Pair of Oak Bay artists part of ‘Crisis’ exhibition

The M’akola Housing Society is looking to build two new residences in Sooke to help provide affordable accommodation for local Indigenous people. The projects were granted nearly $1.1 million toward their construction through the Regional Housing Trust Fund. (Photo courtesy M’Akola Housing Society)
Regional Housing First Program strikes another chord in Greater Victoria

Affordable housing partnership grants will help house over 100 people on income assistance

Online reservation service, First Table, allows Victoria diners to have dinner at half-price if they’re willing to be flexible about when they go. (Black Press Media file photo)
New reservation service allows Victoria residents to dine out at half price

First Table gives Victoria diners 50 per cent off when they book tables during off-peak hours

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Liberals Leader Andrew Wilkinson, BC Greens Sonia Furstenau, BC NDP John Horgan (The Canadian Press photos)
British Columbians vote in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

At dissolution, the NDP and Liberals were tied with 41 seats in the legislature, while the Greens held two seats

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson,  BC NDP leader John Horgan and BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau. (File)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Climate change and sustainability promises from the parties

Snap election has led to a short campaign; here’s the lowdown on the platforms

Most Read