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 collision involving a trailer on Highway 97 in Peachland is slowing traffic Oct. 20, 2020. (Drive BC)
Collison slows Highway 97 traffic in Peachland

Route is down to single-lane alternating traffic

A fund for the family of Steve Dahnert has been set up on GoFundMe. (GoFundMe)
GoFundMe set up for Penticton family of motorcycle crash victim

Steve Dahnert was struck by an SUV that crossed a double-solid line on Oct. 12

A male deer was spotted with an arrow through its back near a Columbia Street home Oct. 19, 2020 in Penticton. (Dave Katt / Facebook)
Deer with arrow through back spotted roaming Penticton

Conservation officers are searching for the animal

The Penticton Indian Band has elected a new Chief. (File)
Penticton Indian Band elect new chief

Greg Gabriel was elected to replace incumbent Chad Eneas

Naramata transit users will have free transit service on election day, Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
No charge for Naramata transit users on election day

Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen waives fare collection on Oct. 24

Working smoothly together on May 11, 2020, health minister Adrian Dix, B.C. Liberal health critic Norm Letnick, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and sign language interpreter Nigel Howard. (B.C. government video)
COVID-19 co-operation a casualty of B.C.’s pandemic election

NDP’s Horgan weaponizes senior care, B.C. Liberal Wilkinson calls for ‘wartime economy’

Charmaine Scherck with her fiancee, Jason. Friends of the Vernon mortgage broker have started a GoFundMe after a spinal cord stroke left her paralyzed from the chest down Sept. 17, 2020. (Contributed)
Funds raised for Vernon woman who awoke mysteriously paralyzed

Friends are rallying support for Charmaine Scherck, who suffered a spinal cord stroke on Sept. 17

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Vancouver Island residents warned to watch livestock, pets after bear kills llama

Officers could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

One of the chairs that was damaged in Peachland. (Brad Johnson - Facebook)
Peachland staff, ArtWalk hopeful art chairs will be back after vandalism

The ArtWalk chairs were found damaged less than a week after installation

Salmon Arm resident Baillie Bridle turned an 80 cent spin of an online slot machine into almost $800,000. (BCL photo)
Salmon Arm woman hits online jackpot, winning close to $800,000

Winner says money may be used to purchase boat

Lumby is proceeding with Halloween fireworks for 2020, but encouraging everyone to stay in their cars or watch from home. (Dale Eurich Photography - 2019)
Halloween fireworks curbed in all but two North Okanagan communities

COVID-19 forces Lake Country, Coldstream, BX, Armstrong to cancel events

Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students in the classroom. He was one of two fathers who filed a court application in August to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections weren’t in place. That application was dismissed last week. (Contributed photo)
B.C. dad pledges to appeal quashed call for mandatory masks, distancing in schools

Bernard Trest and Gary Shuster challenged health, education ministries’ return-to-school plan

James Young of Naramata grooms Loki, Dog of Miracles, a bearded collie, during a recent dog show in Summerland. The municipality of Summerland is now searching for a location for an off-leash dog park. (Summerland Review file photo)
Summerland seeks input on off-leash dog park

Three locations in community identified as potential sites for park

Most Read