By Manuela Shklanka (’25)
Date: Saturday, October 24th, 2020
Advance Voting: Thursday, October 15th to Wednesday, October 21st, 2020
On October 24th, British Colombians over 18 went to the polls.
Well, maybe not on October 24th. Advance voting started on October 15th, and thanks to the pandemic, the amount of mail-in voting has skyrocketed. Half of BC voters are projected to have ordered a ballot, whereas only 6,500 people did in the last election, according to The Globe And Mail. This is an election with high stakes, because whoever wins will most likely lead us through the rest of this pandemic.
But how much do you really know about this election? The unfortunate truth is that provincial and municipal elections tend not to be as widely explained and talked about in the news. Also, it’s much easier to pay attention to the news that’s in your face, like the American election, for example. Few are willing to sift through dozens of long-winded news articles, listen to every radio station, or watch a 90-minute debate on a school night, just to catch every detail of something that for us too young to vote might not seem important.
It is important. It is our province after all, and as we’ve seen in this pandemic, the attitudes and actions of our provincial government can really affect the rates of case numbers and deaths from COVID-19. In these difficult times full of uncertainty, we need to be able to trust our leaders at every level of government, especially since the experts are telling us the effects of this pandemic will probably last for years. In this election, British Columbians are really answering the question: Who do we trust to get us through the rest of this pandemic?
But first, some background. Our current leaders, who have been guiding us through the past seven months, are the BC New Democratic Party (NDP), led by Premier John Horgan. The other two main political parties are the BC Green Party and the BC Liberal Party (who are more like the national Conservative Party than the national Liberals, for reference). The NDP have been in power for the past three and a half years.
John Horgan and the snap election controversy
“But wait,” you say, “isn’t the term for a premier four years?” Yes, it is, and the election was not supposed to be for another year. In fact, there has not been a snap election during a state of emergency like this one since World War II, and one of the biggest issues in this election, right up there with topics like healthcare and the economy, is the timing.
John Horgan has said that he chose to call this election because he believes that, as the pandemic and its recovery will last years, British Columbians deserve consistency in their government. Whoever wins this election is who voters believe can do this. But there is another very obvious reason, and it is this reason that is under debate.
In BC, there are 87 ridings, and therefore 87 seats in the Legislative Assembly. A party needs 44 of those seats to form a government. In the 2017 provincial election, the Liberals actually won the majority of seats, with 43 of them, but not enough for their then-leader, Christy Clark, to have a second term as premier. So John Horgan and the NDP, with 41 seats, struck a deal with the Greens (then led by Andrew Weaver), who had 3 seats. Thus, the NDP was able to lead a minority government in a deal known as the Confidence And Supply Agreement (CASA). One of the terms of the CASA, though, was that the NDP would not call a general election unless they were defeated in the legislature. Since the NDP hasn’t been defeated in the legislature, the snap election violates the terms of the agreement, and the Greens, now led by Sonia Furstenau, see Horgan’s strategy as a betrayal on the part of the NDP.
Given that, many wonder why the NDP decided to call an election. Well, to put it simply, the NDP have a very high chance of winning a majority. As of the end of the summer, John Horgan was the most popular premier in Canada. BC’s response to COVID-19 has been praised as one of the best in Canada, and CBC News’ poll tracker puts the NDP at a 92% chance of winning a majority government (as of October 23th). However, polls can be wrong, when all is said and done. Both the Greens and the Liberals are claiming the snap election is a power grab by the NDP, and that going out to vote may put British Columbians at risk of catching COVID-19. Others say elections can be safely held during a pandemic, as seen in the New Brunswick provincial election of early September. Despite the pandemic, safety protocols were followed and voter turnout was essentially consistent from previous years. The COVID response, led by Dr. Bonnie Henry, will also continue regardless of the election.
An overview of minor political parties in BC
Apart from the three major political parties (the NDP, Liberals and Greens), there are a number of smaller political parties, most of whom have candidates in fewer ridings. Below is a summary of some interesting parties.
Wexit BC’s platform is most notably based on the idea that BC, or Western Canada in general, should separate from Canada. It’s name is a play on words from the UK’s Brexit (‘Britain’s Exit’ from the European Union is instead the ‘West’s Exit’ from the rest of Canada). According to Wikipedia, they are running candidates in 2 ridings. It is a party that has so far not been taken seriously by the general public. It’s leader is Lee Smith.
The Communist Party of BC’s platform is based around communist ideology. Like Wexit BC, this party has never really gained a foothold in BC, and in this election have candidates in 5 ridings. Its leader is Timothy Gidora.
The Christian Heritage Party Of BC is a right-wing party whose platform is, in short, based in Christian values and celebrating BC heritage. It too has never been a major force in BC politics. They are running candidates in 5 ridings. Its leader is Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson.
The Rural BC Party’s platform mostly includes advocating for BC’s rural communities. They are the smallest party in BC, running in only 1 riding. It’s leader is Jonathan Van Barneveld.
The motto of the BC Vision Party is “One Vision, One World”. Their platform is about creating a creative, peaceful, and equal society through tax credits for families, up-to-date transport systems, investing in technology, and more. They have candidates running in 3 ridings. The Vision Party’s leader is Jagmohan Bhandari.
The BC Libertarian Party’s core principles are to preserve the “universal natural rights to life, liberty, property, expression, and the peaceful pursuit of happiness”, that “no individual or group is permitted to initiate the use of force or fraud against any other” and that the role of government is to protect and preserve that. It’s leader is Donald Wilson, and they are running in 25 ridings.
The BC Conservative Party is separate from the national Conservative Party but has similar values, although their platform is further right. In the past, they have fought the Liberals for power in the provincial government, but are now a minor party in BC, running in just 19 ridings. Their leader is Trevor Bolin.
There are also 24 individuals running as Independents in 22 ridings.
Notes on the provincial debate
In the evening of October 13, the first and only televised debate was held at the Chan Centre here in UBC, moderated by Shachi Kurl, president of the non-profit Angus Reid Institute. The leaders of the three major parties battled it out to tell British Columbians who should be our next premier and to discuss their platforms and ideas for the future of our province. It was a lively debate, with all the candidates socially distanced, of course. There was even a nod to the recent, now infamous debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump in the US, with the moderator saying near the start, “Please, answer the questions you’re asked. I don’t want to have to interrupt you, but I will if I have to.” Some of the themes included pandemic recovery, cost of living, environment and resource policy, and social issues, such as systemic racism and the opioid crisis.
A lot of eyes were on Sonia Furstenau of the BC Green Party, who only became leader one week before the election was declared, making the debate the first opportunity for many Canadians to hear from her. Their platform, only released the day after the debate, includes more funding for schools and education, especially for online education and to keep teachers and EA’s employed, making the $300 crisis supplement currently in place permanent, and a basic income program. Very early on in the debate, in true Green Party fashion, she speaks about climate change, condemning the current government for transferring six billion dollars to the fossil fuels industry. She also made references to teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg and the recent smoke from the wildfires down south. In a CBC News BC live blog , journalist Michelle Ghoussoub writes, “Furstenau, least experienced debater on the stage, certainly has a way of cutting above the noise…” She would continue to do so as the premier and the Liberal leader constantly exchanged barbs over past policies and actions by their respective governments. She also mentioned implementing a system that incentivizes healthier work-life habits in businesses, and “masterful [ly]” (same CBC live blog) threw off the NDP leader on some of his points. When asked about systemic racism, her response was: “The three of us can not reckon what that’s like because we are white. But we have to, in our roles, end that systemic racism… We aren’t all equal, I wish we were, but we’re not.” Some described this as the best response out of all three candidates on the subject; one reporter referred to it as “a real moment” (CBC live blog) while another said she was the “most impressive person on the stage” (Opinion article – The Globe And Mail) In general, she was able to describe her vision for BC that was separate from the NDP’s, but while still saying they “agreed on a lot.”
Andrew Wilkinson and the BC Liberals have made many attacks on the NDP, and have a platform mostly about how they would lead BC through the rest of the pandemic. Some of their policies if elected would include: scrapping the PST (Provincial Sales Tax) for one year, investing $1 billion in long-term care homes, which have been received much attention in this pandemic as they have been the source of most of the COVID-19 deaths in this country, subsidising (financially supporting) $10-a-day childcare for families with incomes under $65,000, replacing the Massey Tunnel with a 10-lane bridge, and more. Mr. Wilkinson has called the NDP decision to call a snap election “selfish.” Going into the debate (and being down in the polls), he needed to explain why he would be a better leader than Mr. Horgan. He also had to defend his non-response to a sexist remark made by Liberal candidate Jane Thornthwaite about NDP candidate Bowinn Ma, a major source of outrage at a virtual event last month. In the first few minutes, he was clearly nervous, defaulting to many of his practiced answers, but hit his stride a few minutes later, asking the premier about how this election has blocked an emergency relief package about to be sent out (which Mr. Horgan denies). He kept referencing how he had been a physician in southern Alberta, and when on the topic of systemic racism, mentioned how an Indigenous boy he helped deliver in childbirth was named after him, a moment described as “cringe-worthy” by an analyst on Twitter. As an experienced debater, the Liberal and the NDP leader had many moments of fierce back-and-forth, with Mr. Wilkinson at one point calling the current premier “divisive.” Notably, Mr. Wilkinson avoided talking about private car insurance, saying that “privatization is a confusing term.” After receiving a question about money laundering, he instead steered to discussing housing prices. At one point, the moderator told him, “You didn’t answer the question. Would you like 10 seconds to answer it again?” He talked about his plan to deal with crime and homelessness, which would include putting more police officers on the streets, after the NDP leader attacked him about this issue becoming worse on “the Liberals’ watch.” (Just a reminder: Mr. Wilkinson has been an MLA since 2013, and leader since 2018.) Overall, Andrew Wilkinson’s performance in the debate reinforced his party’s platform, but as a reporter for the CBC said, “probably didn’t [change] the overall impression people have of him.” We’ll see about that.
As the incumbents and the party which is largely considered to be most likely to win, the BC NDP had to defend their actions in the last three and a half years, as well as provide a platform for what they would do during this pandemic. Some of their proposed policies included: a $1,000 recovery benefit for whose household income is under $125,000 (with less for families making up to $175,000), $500 for single people making under $62,000 (with reduced amounts for single people making less than $87,000), free transit for kids under 12, a rent freeze until 2022, building a second medical school, banning single-use plastics, more spending on seniors’ care homes, and much more. Many of their ads emphasize past policies and decisions, and according to an article by the CBC written back in September and an article by the Vancouver Sun, out of the 122 clear policy promises made in 2017, 96 are finished or on their way to being finished as of when the election was called. In the debate, he spent most of his time defending himself or attacking the other candidates, as well as making as few good points. A reporter jokingly asked on Twitter : “Did [Premier] Horgan have Red Bull before this debate or does he normally speak at 150 words a minute and I just missed it?”
As mentioned earlier, the premier and the Liberal leader clashed from the very start of the debate, beginning with long-term care and tourism. Mr. Horgan also pulled what I would call a Joe Biden, calling his Liberal counterpart “man” within the first 20 minutes in exclamation. The premier’s remark, “I didn’t start it, the Liberals did” at one point could have been applicable to many points of the debate, as he criticized many of his Liberal predecessors’ policies, including their 2002 decision to fire 10,000 healthcare workers. In the topic of systemic racism, the NDP leader joined the Liberal leader in his cringe-worthy moment, referring to himself as “colour-blind” when discussing how he grew up playing lacrosse with Indigenous and South-Asian children. (He would apologize for this statement after the debate, saying it had come out wrong.) When defending a lack of progress when it came to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples he remarked, “a little thing called the global pandemic happened.” All in all, with the possible exception of the Greens, not much is predicted to happen in terms of poll numbers.
As moderator Shachi Kurl said, “Y’all get a cookie, nice work.” Running for premier is not easy at the best of times, and even more difficult in this pandemic.
And that’s it! Please, remind every eligible BC resident you know to vote, whether on the 24th or during early voting. Remember that the results will probably not come out until maybe a few days or even weeks after the day of thanks to the amount of mail-in voting. To find out more about who is running in your riding, or where to vote, or anything to do with this election go to elections.bc.ca, and remember, this election is important for all of us. And go get that cookie once you’re done, you deserve it.