COMMENTARY: John Horgan’s risky snap provincial election in B.C. will be watched closely

If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gets any bright ideas about triggering a snap election in Canada, maybe he should pay close attention to John Horgan’s little power-play gambit, now underway in British Columbia.

Like Trudeau, Horgan has won public plaudits for his management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also like his federal counterpart, Horgan is governing with a minority mandate in the B.C. legislature.

But while Trudeau has stated publicly that he’s not interested in an election this fall, Horgan has been conspicuously evasive on the topic of an election in British Columbia.

But now the cat is out of the proverbial bag. Horgan this week called an election for Oct. 24, insisting he needs a fresh mandate from the people to steer the province through the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

You can bet Trudeau and his advisers — as well as every other political pundit and strategist in the country — will be watching Horgan’s bold move closely.

Because even though Horgan’s New Democrats may be riding high in the polls right now, there’s a very good chance his snap-election gamble will backfire.

There are several major problems here for Horgan that make this election look like nothing but a naked power grab.

For one thing, he’s breaking his governing agreement with the third-place B.C. Green Party.

The deal guaranteed support from the handful of Green MLAs in the minority parliament, giving Horgan enough votes to vault himself into the premier’s office.

The three-year-old agreement says Horgan will not call an early election before October of 2021. Now he’s ripping the agreement up and kicking the Greens to the curb.

October 2021 is when the next B.C. election is supposed to be held, enshrined in the province’s fixed election law, which Horgan supported.

But he’s tossing that aside, too, requesting and receiving an early election from the province’s lieutenant governor.

Why is Horgan throwing his Green partners under the bus and flouting his own election law?

Because the NDP are so far ahead in the opinion polls, that’s why.

Impressed with the government’s management of the pandemic, voters have lifted the NDP to new heights of public support.

One recent poll put the New Democrats an astonishing 26 points ahead of the second-place Liberals.

With numbers like that, the New Democrats can practically taste a majority government.

Horgan knows it’s a risky move.

But insiders tell me party strategists worry the B.C. economy could decline in the new year, damaging their re-election chances if he waits.

Others worry that the Site C dam — a hydroelectric megaproject — could go badly over budget in the new year, further hurting Horgan.

Meanwhile, the snap election call is designed to catch Horgan’s opponents flat-footed.

Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson has low name recognition with voters. And the Greens have a brand-new leader in Sonia Furstenau, who has an even lower profile.

Put it all together and the New Democrats think they’ll never get a better opportunity to seize majority power.

But there are huge risks for Horgan, too, including a continuing surge of new COVID-19 cases.

If the infection rate spikes during the campaign, angry voters could punish Horgan for calling a power-grab election during a public-health emergency.

It could look even worse for Horgan if there is a major COVID-19 outbreak in the school system.

It’s a high-risk, high-reward strategy that will be watched closely elsewhere in Canada.

With Trudeau about to launch a new pandemic strategy with an ambitious throne speech, opposition parties wonder if his “no election” spin is as phony as Horgan’s.

Political observers in Canada will now get a look at a bold political experiment in British Columbia.

If Horgan comes out of this with a majority mandate, he’ll look like a genius and Trudeau might be tempted to copy him.

But if this blows up in Horgan’s face, and voters punish him for calling an unnecessary election during a global pandemic, it could go down as a historic blunder.

Stay tuned.

Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews​.

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