As long as we remember why British Columbia has – or had until last Monday – a legislated four-year general election date, we should also remember who made the sound decision to set the fixed election date in October.
The change from May to October was all about good governance. NDP Attorney General David Eby said: “Moving the fixed election date to the fall will leave time for a February budget to be debated and passed and year-end public accounts to be passed in July, which provides greater transparency and accountability.”
That was less than three years ago when a hobbled government, flying a patched NDP flag of dubious authority, was happy to negotiate in harmonious years of governmental stability.
With the pledged support of three Green Party MLAs, the Lieutenant Governor of the day had felt New Democrats were in a stronger position to govern than the Liberal Party which, although winning one seat more than the New Democrats, lacked Green support and could face defeat on any vote.
So, the Confidence and Supply Agreement 2017 promised sweetness, light, and harmony in the Legislature. Solemnly signed by NDP and Green leaders, things went fairly well for a while.
There were uneasy times. For a while, the grand old Legislature rattled, as ever, with old fashioned rhetoric and anger, but it was mostly focused on the scandalous charges against a few public servants and was finally swept from public interest by the headline-grabbing threat of COVID-19.
By and large, things were moving along nicely for the minority government. Among its mini-triumphs was the sensible one about fixed election dates. For years the NDP, especially during the W.A.C. Bennett years, had complained about premiers who called elections when most expedient for the party and devil take the electorate. In W.A.C.’s day, the government’s mandate was for five years. Later it dropped to four, often shouted about, and occasionally tossed into public forums for debate with little done by way of change. W.A.C.’s favourite election time call was shortly after the introduction of beneficial legislation.They were unashamedly called at plotically opportune times.
Suggestions for change were always around and debated but no major changes were made until Premier Horgan’s government introduced legislation that would change existing dates from May to October and lock elections into a firm date for all future provincial general elections. They would be held “on the third Saturday in October in the fourth calendar year following the general voting day for the most recently held general election.”
Its unanimous approval was welcomed as proof that intelligent politicians could unite when a new statute so obviously served the common good.
It was gold stars all round until last Monday when Premier Horgan announced a snap election in October – a year earlier than the law states. The announcement was greeted with derision by political columnists in the Vancouver Sun (Vaughn Palmer) and Times Colonist (Les Leyne). Horgan blustered that his election call was not “political,” just strictly non-partisan and made necessary by a legislature slipping back into partisan ways. He said he needed a stronger majority to be able to fight the current battle to tame COVID-19.
Palmer described that reasoning as a “thigh slapper,” the colloquialism usually reserved for vaudeville. Leyne bluntly labelled Horgan’s announcement a “double-double cross.”
Some thoughts come to mind, although I quickly confess I’m far removed from the trenches where the battle is being fought. That said:
1. Why did the Premier choose a quiet suburban street for his TV election announcement? To show he’s just an ordinary citizen – or to avoid a protest on the steps of the Legislature where his non-political election call would have been greeted with the raucous laughter it deserved?
2. The Greens have a new leader, Sonia Furstenau. She was just elected leader this month. Married, with children, she is completing her rookie term as MLA. Is Premier Horgan gambling she will crumble on the hustings with Green Party faithful flocking back to the NDP they abandoned when the Greens offered a more reasonable path to reach their conservation aims? Premier Horgan was quick to place blame for recent signs of unrest on the current Green-NDP agreement. When election rumours began swirling, it was Furstenau who suggested an election now would not be the best of choices. The premier responded like the Horgan of old – petulant that someone dared to say he was making a bad decision.
3. Could he be a little scared that he has made a bad call which will cost the NDP votes? Furstenau does have a confident posture in public and presents her views calmly and intelligently. She wouldn’t be the first underdog to score a major election upset.
And, should fate twist the election in that direction, Premier Horgan won’t be the first big name politician to pray, when destiny fails him: “O, call back yesterday, bid time return.”