North Saanich and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen, who served as an interim leader of the BC Greens, says British Columbia New Democrats under leader John Horgan are pursuing power over the “health and safety of British Columbians.”
Olsen made those comments just minutes after Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin dissolved the provincial legislature following a meeting with Horgan in his previous capacity as premier.
“They have taken a look at their polling numbers, and think that they can get a majority,” he said. “Obviously, they have grown uncomfortable with the level of accountability that has been in place over the last three and a half year that have actually made this minority government productive. It’s unfortunate that they have made this decision.”
Before dissolution, the New Democrats under Horgan and BC Liberals under Andrew Wilkinson controlled 41 seats each, with the BC Greens holding two. The former BC Greens party leader sat as an independent.
Horgan, who heads into the election with the highest personal approval rating of any premier with 69 per cent according to an Angus Reid survey from August 2020, said during a press conference Monday morning that British Columbians need certainty as the province continues to deal with COVID-19.
“I’ve struggled mightily with this decision and it did not come easily to me,” said Horgan of his decision to call the election scheduled for Oct. 24, some one year ahead of the date fixed by law. But the early election scheduled for Oct. 24 will give British Columbians the chance to set the direction for province, which cannot afford uncertainty, as it deals with the effects of COVID-19.
Olsen says British Columbians are concerned about their children returning to schools among other issues, not “ugly partisan party politics” in accusing the New Democrats of undermining the work the legislature accomplished under the terms of the supply and confidence agreement struck in the summer of 2017 between Horgan and Andrew Weaver, then-leader of the BC Greens.
Looming large is the question of whether British Columbians can feel safe about heading to the polls during a pandemic with recorded cases of COVID-19 rising.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie said on July 24 that public health officials are working with election officials “so that we are prepared as a province for whatever comes up, whether it be the fall, next spring, next year, and that elections can happen safely.”
Horgan repeated this point during his press conference. “The election of course was not an issue I needed to raise with her,” Horgan said. “She’s been working with Elections B.C. to make sure that should there be an election it will be as safe as possible.”
The official election call follows weeks, if not months of of speculation and multiple personnel moves by the NDP, as well as the other parties in the legislature, including the Sept. 14 election of Sonia Furstenau as the new leader of the BC Greens. She replaces Weaver, leaving the riding of Oak Bay Gordon Head without an incumbent candidate.
That riding will likely generate attention far beyond Greater Victoria thanks to the decision of former MP Murray Rankin to seek the NDP nomination, running against former Oak Bay councillor Michele Kirby, who is also a longtime member of the party’s executive board in the riding. Rankin’s previous experience likely makes him the front-runner for that riding.
As for the BC Liberals, they nominated Oak Bay resident Roxanne Helme as their candidate in July. Helme is a lawyer who has served on the Victoria-Esquimalt Police Board, the Board of the Canadian College of Performing Arts, and the Leadership Council of the Coalition to End Homelessness. BC Greens have yet to nominate a candidate in the riding, a situation also evident elsewhere.
Olsen acknowledges that the situation for his party is not ideal. “But we will be running a provincial campaign,” he said. “Thankfully, Sonia has some name recognition. She is a very strong leader and has shown that in the legislature.”
A look at the region’s ridings
Looking across Greater Victoria, Carole James, the long-time MLA for Victoria Beacon-Hill and former party leader, is the most high-profile cabinet minister not running again for the NDP. Judy Darcy, Shane Simpson, Michelle Mungall, Doug Donaldson, Claire Trevena and Scott Fraser are the other cabinet ministers not running.
While the NDP nomination process for that riding has not yet concluded, James has already signalled her preference by endorsing Grace Lore, a political science doctorate involved with the Fernwood Community Association who ran for Victoria city council, ahead of Stephanie Papik, who had worked in Horgan’s office and is the province’s director, strategic integration of Indigenous knowledge, cultural safety & humility. Neither the B.C. Liberals nor the B.C. Greens have yet to officially announce candidates for the riding.
Looking at the other ridings in Greater Victoria, Lana Popham, who served as minister of agriculture, will look to retain the riding of Saanich South for the New Democrats. She first won the riding in 2009 and beat former Olympian David Calder running for the BC Liberals and Green Mark Neufeld in 2017, running some 11 points ahead of Calder. Neither the B.C. Liberals nor the B.C. Greens have yet to officially announce candidates for the riding. But even incumbents are still trying to get their paper work. Popham, for example, used Facebook Monday to solicit the necessary 100 signatures to verify her candidacy.
Rob Fleming, who served as minister of education in Horgan’s government, will be running as the incumbent in the riding of Victoria-Swan Lake, which he won by almost 24 per cent of the vote, ahead of Green Christopher Maxwell and Liberal Stacey Piercy. Neither the B.C. Liberals nor the B.C. Greens have yet to officially announce candidates for the riding.
In Esquimalt-Metchosin, Mitzi Dean returns as the incumbent, having served as parliamentary secretary for gender equity. In 2017, she won the riding by almost 20 per cent ahead of Esquimalt mayor Barb Desjardins (27.61 per cent) and Andy MacKinnon of the BC Greens (24.81 per cent). Neither the B.C. Liberals nor the B.C. Greens have yet to officially announce candidates for the riding.
Horgan returns as the incumbent of Langford Juan de Fuca, having won just under 53 per cent of the vote in 2017. Neither the B.C. Liberals nor the B.C. Greens have yet to officially announce candidates for the riding.
But if that riding (along with the rest of Greater Victoria region) is the New Democrats to lose, the political situation remains dynamic, as parties scramble to fill their respective candidate slots, a situation likely to favour incumbents.
The Peninsula News Review has reached out to the respective parties for comment and additional information.
– With files from Travis Paterson and Tom Fletcher.
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