So an NDP Premier was re-elected. That’s a first. Taking a precarious minority to a substantial majority is major news too. But nobody should be surprised by this. The NDP led a campaign that was disciplined and focused while their opposition flailed about. It turns out that the ‘steady as she goes’ narrative is what voters needed from their incumbent government.
The final results are as yet unknown, but from what’s been collected so far, the NDP won a substantial chunk of the vote from the BC Liberals and the Greens. The Greens – who keep three seats, replaced some lost vote by also grabbing a few from the BC Liberals. When its all counted, I expect the NDP to finish around 50% of the vote; the Greens off by 1-2pts and the BC Liberals will have lost up to 10pts.
The planning for the NDP for this campaign likely started the moment Andrew Wilkinson was selected leader of the BC Liberals. By his own legacy of a party insider whose record goes back to the days of Gordon Campbell winning his first term in 2001 meant that the whole BC Liberal set of terms were fair talking points of the NDP – and it was exploited well.
The fact that Andrew Wilkinson is really not a personable leader who comes across at elitist as the NDP was happy to portray him as didn’t help him at all. The BC Liberal party didn’t seem to get this and failed to sculpt a different persona – seemed ok with letting the NDP define him…which they did.
The BC Liberals campaigned on a 2001/2005 agenda. Big tax cuts and hope for the best; they didn’t even have a plan to pay for it. Well their shocking PST promise gave the NDP room to expand their campaign pledges by a modest amount compared to the $11 billion price tag of the BC Liberal/PST promise.
It was a perfect little trap – and maybe the NDP set it up this way, maybe it was by chance. But in order to jolt voters into paying attention to the BC Liberals, they had to promise something big – and in that regard, they didn’t disappoint. But it was wrong.
Their PST promise was sold as a way to help consumers in the middle/modest income brackets with some sales tax relief as incentive to shop and buy things, triggering a re-hiring and more production – as the theory goes. But that’s not the practice. Almost all the things needed as essentials by middle and modest income folks were sales tax exempt to begin with; this sales tax stunt would have been a tax win for those purchasing larger ticket items, not essential. So when the NDP came out with their $1000 cash payment to families, the BC Liberals were made to seem like reckless spenders.
Every party has so-called ‘bozo eruptions’. That is to say, candidates who say or do something stupid that causes embarrassment to their party and knocks them off message for a day. Well the BC Liberals had several of them – and they were not insignificant. There were the transphobic candidates outed for their hostility to the community, there was a candidate recorded saying something sexually inappropriate about a female NDP MLA, there was the candidate giving a wink and a nod to the anti-vaxxer/covid19-truther “movement” (despite Andrew Wilkinson being a doctor, apparently).
Again, every party has these candidate causing problems for their central campaigns, but in the BC Liberal matters, the foot dragging by the leadership opened up serious doubts about his ability to lead his party.
For an organization trying to convince voters that its better to change government than to keep the NDP in office, the BC Liberals were failing fast.
There is the power of incumbency that the NDP had. They were the government and by all accounts, even some opponents had admitted that the Horgan government had well executed its duties as a manager of public office – and that was before covid19. For the BC Liberals to turn around and try to demonize the NDP ran against what most folks’ perception was. That was never going to be an easy sell.
To be sure, it was controversial for John Horgan to trigger an election call – one year away from the legislated calendar date. The minority government was held in place by a special agreement with the Green Party through a confidence and supply agreement; or “CASA” for short. It was a calculated risk by Horgan that he should seek a proper mandate just as a second wave of the pandemic begins to go full bloom. The thought was that the pandemic wasn’t going away any time soon and we’re no where near a vaccine.
This part of the argument for an early election call makes sense – and it was over 3.5 years into a traditional 4 year term. The part where there was justification found in the election call because of some disagreement with the Green caucus wasn’t the best argument to make, but as it turns out – both the BC Liberals and Green parties would overplay their hands and take that problem away from Horgan.
The outrage of the early election call should have occupied no more than the first 30 minutes of either the Green or BC Liberal party talking points on the first day of the campaign. Believe it or not, voters want policy too; but the opposition benches spent almost the whole campaign litigating the election call itself. Well, that ship sailed – the election was called, go campaign.
There’s evidence that the election call caught the NDP off guard too. But they adapted, filled out their candidate list and presented a platform.
But there’s one thing I reject from the Greens and BC Liberals. Sure an election might have stunned them, but I dismiss as false the idea that they were unprepared for it; because it would be political malpractice if they were.
This was a minority government. Parties do not (or should not) let their campaign machinery go dormant in the intervening time; they ought to prepare for a non-confidence vote and election call that could come at any time. Indeed, the BC Liberals made a lot of noise to this effect as it was part of their weekly fundraising call to members and supporters.
Even the Green Party who is apparently very bitter at this call and blaming the NDP for catching their party off guard was preparing for an election they pretend to not have seen coming. They managed to nominate 77 candidates in 87 seats – only 6 less than their 83 candidate list in the 2017 campaign they did see coming.
The Green Party isn’t new. Admittedly they are smaller in structure and funding than the NDP or BC Liberals, but they have a campaign and support apparatus that has existed since the 1980’s. So for an election like this to catch them so unprepared reveals a sorry internal state of the party.
I was once quite worried about the Greens and their effect on splitting the centre-left vote – and it wasn’t without merit. But as their political machinery grew and organizational depth developed, so did their arrogance and bad behavior. Their partisan supporters are no less toxic and capable of bullying than anyone else’s; and this campaign has outlined some further problems for them.
This campaign has been a four week temper tantrum by the Green Party that has impressed no-one but their ardent supporters. What’s worse is a developing elitist attitude that presumes they’re exempt from scrutiny or electoral challenge. This might come as a shock to some, but the NDP has every right to compete in a Green-incumbent seat as much as greens can challenge anyone in any seat as well. The lecturing by former federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May is over the top given her leadership brass trying to expel three leadership candidates for her party mid campaign.
Electoral districts do not belong to a party or a candidate. People hire an MLA for the duration of a term to sit as their representative from a party or sometimes independent, but there is no rightful claim to ownership.
The Greens do not get to claim a monopoly on good ideas. The NDP has climate change ideas too; ideas that are not without merit. This arrogance of the Greens as the *only* voice of the environment that should count adds to the elitist image they’re also stuck with.
The Greens chose their issues in this campaign as LNG and SiteC, but neither of them were decisive election issues. Voters had more pressing matters.
Voters were looking for (effectively) a commander in chief and steady hand at the wheel as we navigate through difficult times and a plan to rebuild after we clear this pandemic. Neither BC Liberal or Green Party campaigns offered that plan or that hope. Voters were not looking for radical changes, and weren’t prepared to support candidates who lit their hair on fire. Even if an early election call made a few upset, it wasn’t significant enough to move the needle. It was a risky political gamble for Premier John Horgan and he proved to be correct.
But now the hard part begins. The problems that existed before the pandemic are still here. A majority government with no partners to blame when things go wrong. A term that begins as the pandemic second wave spikes hard.
I hope that in the interim, that the NDP – regardless of its majority, continues to bring opposition party leaders fully into the circle with the pandemic response. The temptation will be huge to hog a spotlight, but please don’t do it. Dr Henry has been a rock star in this pandemic and she is the expert; let her do her job.
The higher the climb, the harder the fall they say. A massive majority might be a buffer against losses in 2024, and that election seems like a lifetime away…but, knowing what I know about campaigns, the planning for that one will start tomorrow.
For my part, its been my quest that since the BC Liberal policies that attacked the mentally ill in the early 2000’s were largely responsible for my brother’s death – that I get to see them lose handily in an election.
They don’t get to almost-govern like 2017; they needed the electoral pounding that they got. Maybe now they can emerge as a coherent centre-right political party that doesn’t willfully attack the vulnerable to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy.
Everything that I have done politically since 2004 has been to this end. Now I will take some time for me and my son.
Thank you all.