Snap! Crackle! Pop! Could fall election fever unmask Horgan?

By Bob Mackin

Instead of a bowl of Rice Krispies, Premier John Horgan might be served his just desserts if he succeeds in convincing Lt. Gov. Janet Austin to dissolve the Legislature for a snap election this fall.

As I reported in, NDP back roomers are scheming to go to the polls the Saturday after Thanksgiving or the Saturday before Halloween. Horgan is buoyed by strong opinion poll results, owing to a weak and ineffective opposition under BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson and the NDP’s strategic decision for Horgan to step back from the spotlight and make the unelected “Dr. Fluevog,” Bonnie Henry, the face and voice of the B.C. government during the coronavirus pandemic.    

There is crackling behind the scenes. 

Horgan’s 2017 campaign manager Bob Dewar and chief of staff Geoff Meggs are giddy at the prospect of winning a majority mandate this fall, instead of Oct. 16, 2021, which is the fixed election date. 

The province’s economy is going to get worse before it gets better and, with that, Horgan’s popularity will inevitably wane. What if a critical mass of BC Liberals realizes Wilkinson is not a premier-in-waiting and a new leader is necessary? 

As Dippers dream of dominance, they are also flirting with their power going “pop!” 

The late Rafe Mair was always fond of saying that six weeks is a lifetime in politics. Things can change rapidly, especially in mega-volatile 2020. Remember the Shut Down Canada anti-pipeline protests that suddenly disappeared from the headlines when the pandemic emergency was declared? 

Just look south to the Excited States, which is grappling with the pandemic, outbreaks of sectarian violence between the red hatted/blue flagged MAGA warriors and the black clad Antifa radicals and a cold war with China en route to the presidential election. If you predicted that a year ago, your prize is waiting for pick-up.

Will bumbling Biden snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on the first Tuesday of November? Will voters dump Trump, as predicted by perfect-since-1984 prognosticator Prof. Allan Lichtman? Stay tuned. 

But I digress. 

No one should be more sensitive to snap election SNAFUs than the NDP themselves. 

B.C.’s first NDP government went to the polls prematurely in the fall of 1975, as its three years in office turned to four. The three magic words “Premier Dave Barrett” were no more. 

The socialist hordes, as longtime Social Credit Premier W.A.C. Bennett called them, entered politely through the gates of power on Sept. 15, 1972 when Barrett’s NDP was sworn-in after ending the elder Bennett’s career. They won the election two weeks earlier with 38 seats over the Social Credit’s 10, owing to a split on the centre-right (Liberals took five and Conservatives two seats). 

The Daily Colonist newspaper’s Aug. 31, 1972 front page headline writer was so surprised with the result, the exclamation point appears before the capitalized and bolded words “AN NDP LANDSLIDE.” 

Over the next three years, the Barrett NDP rapidly transformed B.C. Their legacy continues to this day, in the form of the Agricultural Land Reserve, ICBC, SeaBus, B.C. Day, Whistler resort municipality, and protection of Cypress Provincial Park from logging.

Barrett tried to squelch election speculation in 1975, telling reporters it was 90% out of the question. Just wait ’til 1976, he said. But Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau made fighting inflation a national priority and Barrett agreed. So he said he needed a new mandate. Which is what Horgan might also say in the coming weeks. 

The Colonist’s Nov. 4, 1975 front page screamed: “Snap! B.C. goes to the polls Dec. 11.” 

In a case of foreshadowing, Barrett seemed to run out of new ideas. He was caught recycling an old Bennett slogan from 1952, “equal opportunities for all, special favours for none.” 

Barrett used “equal sacrifices for all, special favours for none” on the campaign trail against so-called “Mini-W.A.C.”, Bill Bennett,

On election night, the Socreds under Bennett the Second returned to power with 36 of 55 seats. NDP was left with 17. Conservatives and Liberals managed one apiece. Two generations of Bennetts celebrated in Kelowna. Barrett, who lost his own seat, commiserated in Port Moody. 

Horgan came to power in July 2017 through a deal with the Andrew Weaver-led BC Greens to prop-up his minority government after Christy Clark’s BC Liberals lost their majority in the May 2017 election. 

Except for Wilkinson’s utterly stupid attempt to derail Legislature corruption whistleblower, Speaker Darryl Plecas, the Legislature has silenced its critics and operated with surprising stability and efficiency in a time of domestic and foreign turmoil. From March to June, during the pandemic’s first wave, the three parties put politics aside and worked together.

Weaver quit as Green leader last year and is eyeing an early departure next year; successor Sonia Furstenau wants to stay in the confidence and supply agreement that keeps the NDP in power. Part of that agreement was that Horgan and the NDP would not call an election before the fixed date of October 2021.

Horgan and the NDP found themselves tied with the BC Liberals at 41 seats apiece at the end of August, when Tracy Redies quit her South Surrey-White Rock seat to become Science World’s new CEO. A by-election to fill that vacancy must be held by the end of March 2021. 

Meanwhile, Elections BC is lining up staff and is hurriedly negotiating leases for its offices in each of the 87 ridings. It may need to send masked and gloved staff into school gyms and church basements in October. It has officiated five mail-in referenda from 2002 to 2018, but never a mail-in election. This could be a first. 

Horgan better have some Lucky Charms. 

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