NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, October 14th, 2020

Ahead of snap election, British Columbia holds cool, courteous, issue focused leaders’ debate

British Columbians are a peo­ple of the north, and the province’s polit­i­cal lead­ers know how to keep their cool. They showed as much Tues­day night in a respect­ful, issue-cen­tered debate between the peo­ple who want to serve as B.C.‘s premier.

The only sign of America’s pol­i­tics, the Trump Tow­er in Van­cou­ver, closed in August due to finan­cial woes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Less than two weeks before they vote in a provin­cial elec­tion – although 646,000 have request­ed bal­lots to vote in advance — B.C. vot­ers watched a nine­ty-minute debate that was cour­te­ous, cen­tered on sub­jects rang­ing from the pan­dem­ic to the envi­ron­ment, with a mod­er­a­tor, Shachi Kurl, shut­ting down interruptions.

“Thank you all for a respect­ful debate: You all get a cook­ie,” Kurl, who heads the Angus Reid Insti­tute, said as she closed the face­off between three par­ty leaders.

The debate did noth­ing to halt momen­tum of the left-lean­ing New Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty of out­go­ing Pre­mier John Hor­gan, which had a fif­teen-point lead in a pre-debate poll. The par­ty which wins a major­i­ty in the eighty-sev­en mem­ber British Colum­bia Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly forms the gov­ern­ment. Its leader becomes Pre­mier, com­bin­ing the exec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive branch­es of government.

Once an angry pres­ence in the Leg­is­la­ture, Hor­gan has become avun­cu­lar, smil­ing and at times agree­ing with and thank­ing fel­low lead­ers, par­tic­u­lar­ly over what has been a uni­fied response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He side­stepped ques­tions about a “megapro­ject” that has turned into a mega-white ele­phant, the Site C dam under con­struc­tion on the Peace River.

“It wasn’t my project: The BC Lib­er­als start­ed it,” he said, refer­ring to the oppo­si­tion par­ty that ruled British Colum­bia for sev­en­teen years until 2017.

The fate of Site C has been punt­ed to a con­sul­tant report, due out after the Octo­ber 24th provin­cial snap election.

The Lib­er­als’ leader, Andrew Wilkin­son, is of a type not unfa­mil­iar to the Great White North. He is a doc­tor, a lawyer, and a Rhodes Scholar.

But he’s also stiff.

In a province known for flam­boy­ant lead­ers, Wilkin­son has had trou­ble con­nect­ing with the folks. He has shown less-than-rapid response on the cam­paign trail.

Wilkin­son was present at a fundrais­er when a B.C. Lib­er­al can­di­date made a rude, sex­ist com­ment about a leg­isla­tive col­league, New Demo­c­rat Bowinn Ma, the youngest mem­ber of the B.C. Leg­isla­tive Assembly.

He said noth­ing at the time, lat­er issu­ing a tepid apology.

The oppo­si­tion leader also failed to stand up for LGBTQ rights after rev­e­la­tions about two Lib­er­al can­di­dates in the con­ser­v­a­tive Fras­er Val­ley: One leg­isla­tive hope­ful vot­ed in local coun­cil against a rain­bow cross­walk, the oth­er helped finance a pub­li­ca­tion pro­mot­ing con­ver­sion therapy.

Wilkin­son deliv­ered a sort-of mea cul­pa, say­ing he has “gay and les­bian mem­bers in my fam­i­ly.” In last night’s debate, he effec­tive­ly ban­ished the Lib­er­al can­di­date in North Van­cou­ver who com­mit­ted the Ma gaffe, say­ing: “It was abun­dant­ly clear by the end of the roast she’d made a bit of a fool of herself.”

And: “It was so clear what she did was wrong.”

The episode helps reveal a dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal cul­ture on the oth­er side of the 49th Par­al­lel. While Repub­li­cans in “the States” rail against Medicare for All, Canada’s nation­al health care pro­gram is, as John Hor­gan described it Tues­day night, “what sep­a­rates us from our neigh­bors to the south.”

British Colum­bia has expe­ri­enced 10,734 cas­es of the coro­n­avirus, although five hun­dred and forty-nine new cas­es report­ed this week rep­re­sent an upswing.

The province has expe­ri­enced a total of two hun­dred and fifty deaths. Wash­ing­ton has expe­ri­enced 98,792 con­firmed cas­es with 2,294 deaths.

The dus­tups over sex­ism and anti-LGBTQ feel­ings are also instruc­tive. Human rights and social tol­er­ance are part of Canada’s DNA. Nation­al­ly, the Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty of Cana­da lost last year’s elec­tion in part due to pre­vi­ous oppo­si­tion to mar­riage equal­i­ty by leader Andrew Scheer. British Colum­bia has twice had senior cab­i­net min­is­ters who are gay, and twice seen women in the premier’s office.

The New Democ­rats were kept in pow­er since May of 2017 thanks to the votes of three Green Par­ty mem­bers (all from Van­cou­ver Island) in the Assem­bly. The NDP and Greens had an agree­ment that was due to last until Octo­ber of 2021.

Just after selec­tion of a new Green leader, Sonia Furste­nau, Hor­gan pulled the plug, dis­solv­ing the Assem­bly and call­ing a snap elec­tion. Because B.C. has a par­lia­men­tary gov­ern­ment, he could do that. The Greens were furi­ous, and Furste­nau took after Hor­gan on Tues­day night for the “unnec­es­sary” election.

The new Green leader had her moment, notably an elo­quent dis­cus­sion of how racism and priv­i­lege live on in the province.

Furste­nau wasn’t buy­ing the New Democ­rats’ new pol­i­cy set­ting aside old growth forests, argu­ing: “We are cut­ting down way more trees than we can sustain.”

As with Amer­i­can gov­er­nors, Cana­di­an pre­miers have watched their pop­u­lar­i­ty rise after quick, ear­ly response to the pan­dem­ic. “All of us are fac­ing pres­sures and chal­lenges that could not have been imag­ined before this year,” said Furstenau.

The province’s tourism/visitor indus­try has hol­lowed out.

Con­certs, Canucks games, and B.C. Lions foot­ball are out.

The bor­der is closed to all but “essen­tial” traf­fic. The province some­times nick­named Canada’s “lotus land” is fac­ing a gloomy winter.

Except for John Hor­gan. Wilkin­son didn’t lay a glove on him Tues­day night.

Hor­gan mocked the Lib­er­als’ pro­pos­al to let pri­vate auto insur­ance plans com­pete with the gov­ern­ment-run Insur­ance Cor­po­ra­tion of British Colum­bia, not­ing that the Lib­er­als in pow­er had made a mess of I.C.B.C.

At one point, the New Democ­rats’ leader turned to Wilkin­son and said, “You need to get out in the neigh­bor­hood and talk to peo­ple, my friend.”

Hor­gan stands to “win” the job of plan­ning the province’s recov­ery from a pan­dem­ic with no end in sight. It will be a dif­fi­cult journey.

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One Comment

  1. # by Robert Broughton :: October 14th, 2020 at 3:34 PM
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