This provincial election could end up being a referendum on whether we should be having an election right now. But it can be about much more than that.
The B.C. election that very few British Columbians wanted during a pandemic is happening Oct. 24. B.C. Premier John Horgan says the government didn’t have the stability it needed as it approaches next year’s budgeting. In a narrowly split legislature, that’s plausible. But any early election call should be met with cynicism, let alone an early election during a pandemic.
I had conversations with candidates or riding association members from the three major parties last week. In an election campaign during unprecedented COVID-19 times, the top-of-mind question wasn’t COVID-19, but rather election timing.
Michelle Stilwell, B.C. Liberals incumbent MLA for Parksville-Qualicum, called the early election call “a desperate attempt” by the premier to “cling to power.”
“It’s certainly not something that people need right now,” she said. “They need to be focused on recovery and safety during the pandemic.”
B.C. Greens riding association reps, too, said the B.C. NDP’s election call shows untrustworthiness and opportunism.
Sheila Malcolmson, NDP incumbent MLA for Nanaimo, tied the election timing to the government’s COVID-19 recovery plan.
“Given how hard that work is going to be to recover from the pandemic and how important it is to care for people, Horgan wants to know that the people of B.C. are with him,” she said. “I think this is the right time to ask that question.”
The NDP should be held accountable for forcing an election that could have happened next year as scheduled. Opposition parties are right to make it an election issue. At the same time, there has to be more to this election campaign, and I think there will be.
It will be interesting to see how the parties present their messaging on COVID-19 response and recovery. All can agree on the science, and about wearing masks and physical distancing, and all will be effusive in their praise of provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. So they will have to compare, contrast and distinguish other ideas.
That won’t be easy. We haven’t emerged from the pandemic and it’s hard to picture what a post-COVID-19 recovery looks like. We’ve seen details of the NDP’s plan, but it will be hard for many voters to wrap their heads around $1.5 billion in promises and differentiate between NDP, Liberal and Green visions of economic recovery.
Leadership itself could become more of an election issue in a pandemic. It’s central to any election campaign – sometimes directly discussed and debated but always there for voters to perceive and judge. British Columbians will be consciously and unconsciously making determinations about leadership – particularly the past six and a half months of leadership and how that brought us where we are.
What should we be asking for locally during this campaign? What’s reasonable to desire and demand for our riding, our city, our neighbourhood, our family, when the whole world is sick? I hope big promises are made and fulfilled for B.C. and for Nanaimo, Nanaimo-North Cowichan and Parksville-Qualicum. The things that matter here are important, and should be important to the next B.C. government. Even in COVID times, especially in COVID times.
Let’s make the best of this election that nobody wanted.