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

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 18 COVID-19 cases, highest daily count since July

The total of COVID-19 cases in the region is now at 662

A Kelowna clinic decided to immunize their patients in a drive-thru flu clinic earlier this month. (Twila Amato - Black Press Media)
Interior Health anticipates increase in flu vaccinations this season

Some 300,000 doses of flu vaccine ready for distribution across Southern Interior

Snowfall in the Okanagan shatters records. (Contributed)
Snowfall in Okanagan breaks records dated back to 1899

Penticton has received over 10 cm today, surpassing the 8 cm record set in 1957

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

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Voters are saying they felt safe voting in person despite the current pandemic. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Central Okanagan voters talk about their pandemic election experience

Despite an election taking place during COVID-19, residents said they felt safe voting in person

Cole Collingwood casts his mock ballot at Vernon’s Mission Hill Elementary School ahead of the provincial election Oct. 24, 2020. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
PHOTOS: Okanagan students cast mock election ballots

At Mission Hill Elementary, the election is a chance to learn about the democratic process

Thanks to efforts by a Kelowna shelter and Elections BC, anyone who wishes to can vote in the 2020 BC Provincial Election, even if they don’t have a fixed address. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Kelowna group ensures people experiencing homelessness can vote

Shelter supervisor says voting ‘a fundamental right’ even for those without a fixed address

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

(Big White Ski Resort photo)
Big White receives 21 cm of snow in 24 hours

Resort’s snow base 41 cm deep, one month until opening day

The deer were allegedly shot within Princeton town limits, late at night. Black Press File Photo.
Armed man, in full camouflage, allegedly shoots deer in downtown Princeton

‘The list of charges goes on and on,’ said RCMP Sgt. Rob Hughes

Most Read