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

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

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
36 new cases of COVID-19, one death in Interior Health

The number of active cases in the region is at 366

Minor Hockey Day in Trail - for web
Greater Trail minor hockey maintains tradition in time of no-play pandemic

GTMHA recognizing its teams in Trail Times feature (photos pre-pandemic)

Tim Schewe
DriveSmart: Police Powers

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement.

Coby Reid helped rescue this bobcat from where it had frozen to the train tracks. Photo: Coby Reid
Bobcat deliverer shares details from Kootenay train track rescue

Coby Reid helped rescue a bobcat that was frozen to train tracks near Waneta bridge

Pictured here are part of the Oxide Leaching crew on Dec. 31, 1944. L-R: Reg Bilkey, Mary Rohacks, Mabel Schiavon, Bill Saitherswaite, Bobby Mason held by Carmela Demeo, Jean Stainton, Skid Marsters, Ingrid “Atty” Atkinson, Andy Adie, and Jessie Woodridge. Photo: Trail Historical Society
Trail Blazers: Pillars of strength – our women

Trail Blazers is a weekly historical feature in partnership with the Trail Museum and Archives

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Grand Forks’ Gary Smith stands in front of his Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster float. Photo: Submitted
Grand Forks’ Flying Spaghetti Monster leader still boiling over driver’s licence photo

Gary Smith, head of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of B.C., said he has since spoken to lawyers

A Cowichan Valley mom is wondering why masks haven’t been mandated for elementary schools. (Metro Creative photo)
B.C. mom frustrated by lack of mask mandate for elementary students

“Do we want to wait until we end up like Fraser Health?”

(Pxhere)
B.C. research reveals how pandemic has changed attitudes towards sex, health services

CDC survey shows that 35 per cent of people were worried about being judged

Some Canadians are finding butter harder than usual, resulting in an avalanche of social media controversy around #buttergate. (Brett Williams/The Observer)
#Buttergate: Concerns around hard butter hit small B.C. towns and beyond

Canadians find their butter was getting harder, blame palm oil in part one of this series

Most Read