Here's why John Horgan needs this B.C. election to be slightly more competitive
(Warning: This article is longer than what's ordinarily offered up on media websites.)
During its recent term, the B.C. NDP government did a solid job in undermining the B.C. Liberal brand.
That was accomplished in many ways.
As I wrote back in 2018, the Dirty Money report into money laundering in casinos effectively gored former senior Christy Clark cabinet ministers Mike de Jong and Rich Coleman.
Next, the NDP went after the B.C. Liberals' new leader, Andrew Wilkinson, by blaming him for delaying a new Surrey hospital.
That's because when he was citizens' services minister, his ministry sold a property in Cloverdale as part of a "fire sale" of government assets.
In the 1990s, the NDP government had identified this parcel for a new hospital.
Meanwhile, the NDP minister responsible for ICBC, Attorney General David Eby, cleverly attributed financial problems at ICBC to the B.C. Liberals.
He did this by characterizing the Crown insurer's finances as a dumpster fire—surely the most memorable sound bite of the NDP's term.
Of course, the B.C. Liberals haven't helped their cause with many self-inflicted wounds over the years, including their handling of ICBC.
One of the more egregious political blunders was their failure to introduce meaningful campaign-finance reform long after this was done at the federal level.
The Straight highlighted this a cover story as far back as 2005. We presented a long list of B.C. Liberals donors who each gave $50,000 or more.
More than a decade later, it was easy for Eby to make a case to voters about how B.C.'s "Wild West" political-finance laws fuelled corruption.
The general NDP story line has been that the B.C. Liberals made a mess of the province to help their rich supporters. And Horgan & Co. came to the rescue by "working for you".
It's a plausible narrative for voters, given the B.C. Liberals' record in government.
B.C. NDP introduced housing and tax reforms
After forming government, the B.C. NDP had to show voters that it differed from the B.C. Liberals in several key areas.
One example was with its housing policies.
Under Premier John Horgan, there were more modular housing units for the homeless. The government bought hotels for low-income housing.
Moroever, there was an expanded and higher vacancy tax (referred to as a speculation tax by the government), lower annual rent increases, and property surtaxes on those who owned homes valued at more than $3 million.
Plus, the NDP government hiked property-transfer fees and introduced the province's first poverty-reduction plan.
In addition, the B.C. NDP has proceeded with fairly modest income-tax reform, which hasn't caused any political backlash.
There was a slight hike in the personal income tax rate of those earning more than $150,000 per year.
Above that threshold, they pay 16.8 percent rather than 14.7 percent on taxable income. But it's easy to avoid some of that through registered retirement savings contributions.
In addition, a new tax bracket was created for those with taxable incomes over $220,000—they'll pay 20.5 percent above that level. Nobody's crying for them and they're still paying far less in taxes than they did 40 years ago.
Meanwhile, the provincial corporate tax was increased by from 11 to 12 percent early in the NDP's term, which didn't create any controversy.
And B.C.'s postsecondary sector devoted far more attention to Indigenizing campuses and appointing Indigenous chancellors following Horgan's decision to name Melanie Mark as minister of advanced education. These moves were warmly welcomed.
However in other areas, it was hard to tell the difference between the previous B.C. Liberal government and the new regime led by Horgan.
While in government, the NDP offered $6 billion in inducements to promote liquefied natural gas.
In this regard, Horgan went further than the B.C. Liberals ever did to satisfy the demands of Shell Oil and its partners.
To ensure this project proceeded, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth even authorized the redeployment of RCMP resources in response to a court injunction obtained by Coastal GasLink.
And the fracking of natural gas continued unabated.
To calm down the oil and gas sector, the B.C. NDP set greenhouse-gas reduction targets that didn't kick in until 2030—a time when Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman and Premier John Horgan will likely be out of politics.
And the NDP government didn't manage to halt the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion. Its cost has ballooned to $12.6 billion under the federal Liberal government. B.C.'s coastline remains under threat as a result.
Horgan's inner circle dismissed an idea offered by former B.C. Liberal campaign manager Martyn Brown, written on this website, to create a joint Indigenous-B.C. government regulatory authority similar to the Environmental Assessment Office.
According to Brown, this "Heavy Oil Regulatory Authority" might have enabled the province to kibosh the pipeline project while remaining onside with the constitution.
And perhaps most distressing to the NDP's traditional voting base, Horgan proceeded with the costly Site C dam, all the while blaming the B.C. Liberals.
Recently, First Nations leaders, engineers, economists, environmentalists, and a former CEO of B.C. Hydro signed a letter calling on the premier to suspend construction of the dam on the Peace River
The NDP government has refused to do this, despite the discovery of geotchnical problems.
"The project’s estimated total costs have recently been pegged at $12 billion – virtually double what they were when former Premier Gordon Campbell announced the government’s intention to proceed with the project a decade ago," they wrote. "The newly-reported geotechnical problems at Site C will add significant, unknown added expenses to the final project cost."
Is a tectonic shift coming to B.C. politics?
As a result of the B.C. NDP's support for megaprojects like the LNG Canada plant in Kitimat and the Site C dam, it's poised to win over some former B.C. Liberal voters.
But its antipoverty measures—and its undermining of the B.C. Liberal brand—will retain a chunk of the NDP's traditional base.
That could add up to a political landslide on October 24 in the B.C. election.
But here's the danger for the B.C. NDP.
If there's a complete collapse in the B.C. Liberal vote, it could boomerang into much stronger support for the B.C. Greens by election day.
We've seen this movie before.
In 2001, those who hated the B.C. Liberals knew that a vote for the NDP wasn't going to stop Gordon Campbell from becoming premier. So many traditional NDP voters migrated to the B.C. Greens. The NDP was left with just two seats.
Similarly in 2011, the federal Liberals under Michael Ignatieff were never going to stop the Harper Conservatives.
So many traditional Liberal voters decided in that election to vote for the NDP instead.
As a result, the NDP under Jack Layton won more than 100 seats and became the Official Opposition.
So what's going to happen if traditional B.C. Liberal voters see the party leader, Andrew Wilkinson, as a dead duck?
What if a large number of voters who dislike the NDP feel that Wilkinson can't stop Horgan from being reelected?
Could this lead these voters to abandon the B.C. Liberals and vote for B.C. Green candidates instead?
It's a distinct possibility.
A nonscientific survey on Straight.com shows that only nine percent of participants thought that Wilkinson was the best provincial party leader. (No doubt, the B.C. Greens have tried to influence the outcome as their leader, Sonia Furstenau, is currently in first place.)
In many constituencies, a collapse in the B.C. Liberal vote likely won't hurt the NDP candidate, given the NDP's standing in the polls.
But where the B.C. Greens are in tighter races with the B.C. NDP, like in Saanich and the Islands, Cowichan Valley, or possibly Victoria–Swan Lake, it could conceivably make a difference.
If enough former B.C. Liberal voters cast ballots for the Greens, it could catapult more Greens into the B.C. legislature.
There's a lot of speculation in the media about the B.C. Greens being shut out in this election now that their former leader, Andrew Weaver, is backing the NDP's Horgan.
That, however, doesn't take into account the impact of a B.C. Liberal debacle in this election.
If that were to occur, it could conceivably breathe new life into the B.C. Greens, notwithstanding their current polling numbers.
And that's the worst long-term scenario for the NDP because only Green MLAs will call out the premier on the Site C dam and LNG. That has the potential to undermine NDP support going into the following election when the B.C. Liberals just might have a more appealing leader.