In a decision that had been expected for the past few weeks, Premier John Horgan of British Columbia is expected to dissolve the confidence and supply agreement that propped up his government and has called for an early provincial election. This will be the second election held in Canada since the arrival of COVID-19 in the country, but this time in a province that is arguably at a new peak in cases. Currently, Horgan and his colleagues in the BC New Democratic Party are on track for a landslide according to recent provincial polling.
There is a unique dynamic of provincial politics in British Columbia. The province was the last stronghold of the Social Credit movement, with federal supporters of the Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties in the province tending to back the Social Credit party in provincial elections. This lack of support led to the provincial Liberal party splitting from its federal counterpart and the provincial Conservative party to not have had any meaningful force in the province since 1952. Thus, the BC Liberals are to the right of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party.
However, since 2001, there has been a rise in the Green Party in the province. The party has consistently gotten over 8% of the vote in provincial elections since the 2001 wipeout of the NDP and has had seats in the Legislative Assembly since 2013. In 2017, the party won 3 seats and nearly 17% of the vote, holding the balance of power.
In the months that followed, the Green Party negotiated a confidence and supply agreement with the NDP. This swept Liberal Premier Kristy Clark out of power. But, in October 2019, their then leader, Andrew Weaver, announced he was stepping down, pending the results of a leadership election. However, this past January, Weaver abruptly announced he was leaving the leadership and the Green Party immediately, citing personal reasons. This change has meant that “The Green caucus today is not the Green caucus of three years ago“, according to Premier Horgan.
These comments, combined with the NDP announcing candidates for their key ridings in the past two weeks, have sparked discussion about the possibility of an early election. The BC Liberals have bled support to the NDP and the BC Conservatives. Moreover, the Greens have also bled support to the NDP. This, combined with support for the Government concerning their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, has left the NDP in the driver’s seat.
State of the Race
So, what challenges do the opposition parties have? The Liberals have to worry about their weakest performance since their resurgence under Gordon Wilson in 1991. The Greens may face an electoral wipeout, and the BC Conservatives may fall short of having a MLA in the next Assembly. Combined with the fact that there’s plenty of ridings in which the opposition parties can split the vote, a dominant NDP could end up with a landslide on the level of the Liberals win in 2001, with a significantly smaller portion of the vote than the Liberals had achieved.
The NDP is in a situation similar to New Brunswick over the past month. They are a government popular due to their COVID response facing a splintered opposition and are in the driver’s seat when it comes to the opinion polls. However, as New Brunswick showed us earlier this week, polls can tighten. While an NDP landslide is possible, it’s no guarantee. Personally, I’d say the NDP will gain a majority, with a landslide likely as of right now. Depending on the length of the campaign, however, things can change.
The Vancouver Metro and southern British Columbia will be the keys to this election. These areas hold the largest number of marginal seats, so any changes in the total votes will be reflected in these areas. A good night for the Liberals would be maintaining their ground in these areas. For the NDP, having a net seat change of 3 in this area would be enough for a majority, granted they don’t lose any seats to the Greens. For the Greens, holding their seats on Vancouver Island and possibly expanding into mainland British Columbia would be a great election night for them. Finally, for the Conservatives, managing to win or come close to winning a seat would be an accomplishment in and of itself.