John Horgan gives victory speech after snap election
John Horgan gives a low-key victory speech after snap election triumph (Via the CBC)

The left-of-cen­ter New Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty swept to vic­to­ry on Sat­ur­day night in a British Colum­bia provin­cial elec­tion called amidst the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, which Canada’s province-on-the-Pacif­ic has held in check until a recent flareup.

The party’s top offi­cial, John Hor­gan, will be the first NDP leader ever to win two terms as Pre­mier. As of when the CDC end­ed its livestream at 11 PM Pacif­ic, the New Democ­rats were ahead in fifty-five of the province’s eighty-sev­en rid­ings (which is what Cana­di­ans call an elec­toral dis­trict), but count­ing of a quar­ter-mil­lion mail in bal­lots could cause the results to change.

The New Democ­rats were well ahead in the pop­u­lar vote with more than forty-four per­cent, to thir­ty-five per­cent for the oppo­si­tion B.C. Lib­er­als and six­teen per­cent for the Green Party.

The long rul­ing BC Lib­er­al Par­ty – it gov­erned the province from 2001 to 2017, unex­pect­ed­ly win­ning big in 2013 – suf­fered its worst defeat since 1991.

The free enter­prise par­ty was dis­lodged from such tra­di­tion­al strong­holds as Rich­mond, at the mouth of the Fras­er Riv­er, and lost seats on Vancouver’s afflu­ent North Shore as well as the tra­di­tion­al­ly right-think­ing Fras­er Valley.

The Lib­er­als were left as a par­ty of inte­ri­or and rur­al British Colum­bia with only a hand­ful of remain­ing strong­holds in BC’s pop­u­lous Low­er Mainland.

Nobody expects the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic to go away soon.

“The chal­lenges are daunt­ing,” Hor­gan said in claim­ing victory.

John Horgan gives victory speech after snap election
John Hor­gan gives a low-key vic­to­ry speech after snap elec­tion tri­umph (Via the CBC)

The last time the NDP took pow­er and stood ready to form gov­ern­ment, in 1991, Pre­mier-des­ig­nate Mike Har­court declared to cheer­ing sup­port­ers: “Let’s party.”

But, speak­ing to a most­ly emp­ty room due to the virus, Hor­gan declared: “COVID-19 has turned our lives upside down. None of us expect­ed to be here. None of us expect­ed that we would have to endure the chal­lenges we’ve had over the past num­ber of months, but we are far from out of the woods.”

Adri­an Dix, who has served as BC Health Min­is­ter, said as returns came in: “we’re obvi­ous­ly going to be in this (pan­dem­ic) for a long time.”

The elec­tion took place on a day when winds out of the Fras­er Val­ley were as chilly as the per­son­al­i­ty of BC Lib­er­als’ leader Andrew Wilkinson.

Wilkinson’s future as par­ty leader is in doubt. He didn’t con­cede on Sat­ur­day night, say­ing the out­stand­ing mailed in bal­lots must be counted.

Andrew Wilkinson speaking after snap election
Lib­er­al leader Andrew Wilkin­son deliv­ered a very sub­dued speech fol­low­ing the release of ini­tial returns (Via the CBC)

Under British Columbia’s par­lia­men­tary sys­tem, the par­ty which wins the most seats in the British Colum­bia Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly gets to form the gov­ern­ment. Its leader becomes Premier.

The NDP has its roots in demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ism. Count­ing Sat­ur­day night, it has pre­vailed only four times in provin­cial elec­tions going back to 1972. Usu­al­ly, a free enter­prise coali­tion – such as the (not very lib­er­al) B.C. Lib­er­als – has prevailed.

In 2017, how­ev­er, under Hor­gan, the New Democ­rats cap­tured forty-one seats in the Leg­is­la­ture. The Lib­er­als won forty-three. But the insur­gent Green Par­ty took three seats on Van­cou­ver Island. The Greens were king­mak­ers, mak­ing an agree­ment to sup­port the NDP through Octo­ber of 2021.

Hor­gan broke the pact and called a snap elec­tion a year ahead of sched­ule. He has the pow­er to do so, but was wide­ly crit­i­cized for the move. Hor­gan argued that B.C. vot­ers need­ed a voice in how the province recov­ers from the pan­dem­ic.

An unspo­ken goal of the NDP was to recap­ture the Greens’ seats on Van­cou­ver Island, and ban­ish them from the Legislature.

Under artic­u­late new leader Sonia Furste­nau, how­ev­er, the Greens emerged with three seats – and will con­tin­ue to have a pres­ence in the leg­isla­tive chamber.

Sonia Furstenau speaks after snap election initial results released
Sonia Furste­nau’s Greens appear to have nei­ther lost nor gained much ground in the snap elec­tion (Via CBC)

The NDP gov­ern­ment has won applause for its treat­ment of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. Hor­gan did not hog the limelight.

Instead, Dix and provin­cial health offi­cer Dr. Bon­nie Hen­ry held dai­ly brief­in­gs. The province was trans­par­ent about progress of the virus.

With the pandemic’s ear­ly arrival in near­by Wash­ing­ton, the Hor­gan gov­ern­ment pressed Canada’s Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau to shut down the U.S.-Canada bor­der to all non-essen­tial traf­fic. Trudeau’s gov­ern­ment obliged.

Bon­nie Hen­ry has become some­thing of a provin­cial (and nation­al) hero for her straight talk, and an embod­i­ment of the Cana­di­an ide­al of peace, order and good gov­ern­ment.

With his gov­ern­ment pop­u­lar, Hor­gan went to the vot­ers. A Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty gov­ern­ment in New Brunswick did like­wise. It, too, won.

(And yes, the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­v­a­tives are a real par­ty in New Brunswick; there are oth­er provin­cial par­ties that go by that name as well.)

Hor­gan was once con­sid­ered an angry oppo­si­tion leader in the Assem­bly. He has become avun­cu­lar as pre­mier, in the sat­is­fy­ing role of a do-good­er put in a posi­tion to do good. He now has a major­i­ty to lead B.C. through dif­fi­cult times.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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