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Riding high in the polls, B.C.'s NDP premier calls a snap election

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Premier John Horgan announces a snap election on September 21, 2020. Image: John Horgan/Twitter

VICTORIA -- Strangely, all those conservatives who are anxious to get us back to school and business as soon as possible didn't seem to be very happy yesterday when B.C. Premier John Horgan called a snap election for October 24.

Supporters of B.C. political parties other than Horgan's New Democrats seemed to be lining up to get on the lunch-hour radio talk shows to complain that the middle of a pandemic is no time to call an election -- at least when the NDP is surfing a series of good polls, including one that says Horgan is the most popular premier in Canada.

But as Horgan pointed out, we're going to be in the middle of a pandemic next year too and, as he put it, "that's why I believe we need to have an election now."

He has been running the province -- quite well by most accounts -- on the narrowest of parliamentary margins, supported by the B.C. Greens, who recently elected a new leader and may or may not be the same party they were back in 2017.

So now's the time, he argued, so get a mandate to carry the province, steady as she goes, through the continuing storm.

The local Postmedia newspapers, accordingly, were doing their best to stir up outrage that Horgan is pulling the plug on the agreement he signed with the Greens back in 2017 to wait until October 2021 before going to the polls.

I don't think anyone accused him of "playing politics," but I could have sworn I heard a reporter at the noon hour news conference in the Victoria suburb of Langford, which Horgan represents in the legislature downtown, accusing the premier of an "opportunistic power grab" -- although that seems like a bit of a stretch since he's already in power.

I don't recall hearing such complaints from the right when New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, who nowadays is a Conservative, did pretty much the same thing last month, calling a snap election in the middle of a pandemic and thereby arranging to be resoundingly re-elected with a majority government on September 14.

That can happen when a first minister decides to roll the dice with an early election. It can go right, as it did for Higgs, and it can go spectacularly wrong as it did for Progressive Conservative premier Jim Prentice in Alberta in 2015 or New Democrat Dave Barrett in 1975 -- which was so long ago that probably nobody remembers it except me.

That's the thing about the parliamentary system. It presents opportunities now and again, and political parties, even social democratic ones, can be expected to try to capitalize on them.

But when you hear B.C.'s underwhelming Liberal leader, Andrew Wilkinson, complaining that Premier Horgan is being cynical, self-serving and selfish for calling an election just because he can win it, that's almost a concession of defeat right there.

Alberta's United Conservative Party Premier Jason Kenney will doubtless be a good sport and try to find a way to support the B.C. Liberals, who are really Conservatives. If something embarrassing happens in Alberta, he may even slip away to British Columbia to do a little fundraising for the Libs, as he did in 2017 when too many Albertans started asking tough questions about the UCP's call to out students in gay-straight alliances.

But I suspect he'd be just as happy if Horgan's New Democrats won another term -- a conservative would be just as hard to work with on the pipeline file, and it could get considerably more embarrassing if a fight erupted between Alberta and a right-wing B.C. government each spouting the same market fundamentalist rhetoric.

In other words, much the same dynamic is at play on the eastern slopes of the Rockies as in 2018, when NDP premier Rachel Notley announced her short-lived boycott of B.C. wine in the same pipeline fight with B.C., by then inconveniently ruled by a fellow New Democrat.

That must never happen again, now that the New York Times has declared B.C. wine to be almost as good as France's, and maybe even better if you buy from the right vineyard. But that, as they say, is another story.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image: John Horgan/Twitter

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