Why John Horgan and the NDP might want to engineer a spring election in B.C.
Things are getting messy in Victoria for the new NDP government—and it may only get worse over the next two years.
Public agitation over high housing prices and a rental-housing shortage appears to be intensifying and spreading to areas outside the Lower Mainland.
Following a review by the B.C. Utilities Commission, Premier John Horgan faces deep disagreements within his own party over the future of the $8.8-billion Site C dam.
Meanwhile, the Greens gathered momentum in the recent Vancouver school-board election, taking the top three spots.
And B.C. Green Leader Andrew Weaver has been eagerly trying to highlight differences between his caucus and the NDP government on a wide range of issues, including ride-sharing and foreign purchases of B.C.'s housing stock.
Imagine for a minute that you're sitting in the premier's office looking at the lay of the land.
You know your party is going to benefit from new campaign-finance rules that will take away a long-time advantage of the B.C. Liberals: its ability to raise millions upon millions of corporate dollars.
Furthermore, the B.C. Liberal brand remains severely battered after 16 years in office.
You see a somewhat chippy race underway to replace former leader Christy Clark. By the time the winner is crowned on February 3, there will likely be even deeper divisions within the B.C. Liberal tent.
Moreover, party donors will have been tapped heavily by leadership candidates. Some might end up with debts to pay after the new leader is elected.
If former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts wins, then federal Liberals within the party might not be happy, given her record as a Conservative MP.
If one of the former cabinet ministers comes out on top (such as Todd Stone, Andrew Wilkinson, or Mike de Jong), he'll have to mend fences with caucus colleagues who supported the losers.
It's an ideal time for a united NDP caucus to trigger an election.
Of course, there's that pesky supply and confidence agreement with the B.C. Greens to address. It's rooted in a "new relationship between the two parties", based on principles of "good faith and no surprises".
This was crafted to win the lieutenant-governor's blessing for a minority NDP government—and in this regard, it worked well.
The Greens want the minority government to last so they can finally get proportional representation in B.C.. This would give them an opportunity to be partners in power-sharing arrangements in the future.
But does the NDP really want proportional representation? It's not ideal for organized labour. That's because in any power-sharing situation, any revisions to the labour code would need the backing of at least one party whose leader has not always been supportive of unionized workers.
Proportional representation might also not be ideal for the NDP after campaign-finance rules have been reformed.
That's because in a first-past-the-post system, this elevates the chance of the NDP securing well over 40 percent of the vote. In some cases, that's sufficient to form a majority government, particularly if the Greens are siphoning away votes from the B.C. Liberals.
The referendum on electoral reform is supposed to place in the fall of 2018.
So if the B.C. NDP privately want to kibosh this idea—notwithstanding its public pronouncements—it's going to have to move quickly.
Securing a majority government in the spring of 2018 would create the conditions to kill electoral reform after the election, just as Justin Trudeau did at the federal level.
Trudeau hasn't appeared to have suffered any serious consequences in the polls.
The Stockwell Day example
There's a relatively recent precedent of a governing party forcing a snap election to catch a new leader flat-footed.
Stockwell Day rose to the top of the Canadian Alliance on September 11, 2000. He had no federal experience, having only served as a provincial politician.
Less than three weeks later, former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau died, causing a spasm of national grief.
In the wake of the nostalgia for Trudeau, then prime minister Jean Chrétien called a national election.
His Liberals won a large majority and Day's Canadian Alliance took only 66 seats. Just over a year later, Day was gone as leader of the Opposition.
Might Horgan want to deliver a similar blow to Watts, should she win the B.C. Liberal leadership race?
If that's on the premier's mind, he's going to have to figure out how to create a rupture with the B.C. Greens that would justify the NDP getting out of its confidence and supply agreement.
Horgan probably thinks he's in a good position to win a majority if there's an election in the spring. That's been the elusive dream of the NDP since the party was bounced out of power in 2001.
His biggest challenge, however, is going to figure out how to blame someone else for forcing voters to go to the polls for the second time in a year.
That's where the Site C dam enters the picture.
The Greens are adamantly opposed to the Site C dam.
The B.C. NDP has its hardcore opponents, but some in the labour movement feel that so much work has been done to date that it would be foolish to cancel it now.
On November 30, a panel of experts with differing views will make presentations to the B.C. cabinet on the project.
If the cabinet were, in the end, to support finishing construction of the dam, it would cause a tremendous backlash on the left.
It might be enough to cause B.C. Green Leader Andrew Weaver to declare that he could no longer support an NDP minority government. Some high-profile New Democrats would abandon the party.
But would that be offset by more support from voters living in the B.C. Interior?
The supply and confidence agreement only states that the NDP minority government would immediately refer the Site C dam project to the B.C. Utilities Commission for review. This has been done.
So if the NDP allows the dam to be completed, Horgan could plausibly state that he upheld his end of the bargain, go to the polls, and try for a majority.
Given the problems besetting the B.C. Liberals, the NDP just might come out on top, particularly if its support for the Site C dam helped it win the votes of people living in places like Prince George and Quesnel.
The purists on the left, renewable-energy advocates, and supporters of Indigenous rights would all be appalled, of course.
But such a move would be cheered by the mainstream media, which has never been too worked up over the loss of farmland caused by the Site C dam, not to mention the flat demand for electricity in B.C. over the past decade.
It's time to place your bets and, for party campaign workers, not to schedule any vacations in late March, April, or May.More