Martyn Brown: How Bonnie Henry could stop John Horgan’s unwanted early election from adding to B.C.’s COVID-19 risks

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      Has Dr. Bonnie Henry been co-opted by John Horgan’s NDP government into blithely facilitating an unwanted snap election that can only amplify British Columbia’s rising COVID-19 risks?

      That will be a mostly unspoken question on many voters’ lips, if she continues to remain as professionally neutral as she been to date in publicly refusing to throw cold water on the prospect of a general election in the midst of this global pandemic.

      Perish the thought that B.C.’s beloved “rock star” top doc is being anything but the global poster child for all we should ever hope and expect from a chief medical health officer.

      She has shown the world how to fight a pandemic by successfully appealing to citizens’ better Angels to stay safe, remain calm, and be kind, and has become a legend in her own time in the process.

      You know you’re doing something remarkably right when the New York Times runs a gushing article on your performance entitled “The top doctor who aced the Coronavirus test”.

      Yet in my mind, there is such a thing as being too kind in fighting this scourge, including as it impacts the political sphere. And Bonnie Henry is in danger of allowing John Horgan to define her as such.

      Fact is, the main reason why Horgan is so high in the opinion polls as to even consider going to the polls a year earlier than his own amended set election law prescribes is because of his government’s handling of the COVID crisis. 

      The only reason that he is a political position to convert that “opportunity” into a potential massive new majority government is because Bonnie Henry has been so successful in rallying all British Columbians to work together in combating the virus to keep each other safe.

      Which is to say, Horgan owes much of his remarkable popularity to the good doctor and to his superb health minister, Adrian Dix. 

      In my books, Dix should hold the title of B.C.’s best health minister of all time, however much others might take exception to that assessment for his handling of other issues, the opioid crisis chief among them.

      To their great credit, even the B.C. Liberals wisely heeded Bonnie Henry’s central appeal, by refusing to criticize the government’s handling of the pandemic over the past several months and by standing together with Horgan’s ministers and MLAs in countless public forums.

      Like the Three Muskateers, Henry, Dix, and Horgan have made “all for one and one for all” their de facto winning message in convincing the vast majority of British Columbians to do what’s right in battling the virus.

      Yet now that same approach that has been embraced by politicians, bureaucrats, and health officials alike to serve all British Columbians so well is in danger of inviting its own unintended thrusts and parrys. 

      Incredibly, to the point of tempting Horgan into acceding to the advice of those political hacks who are dumbly urging him to drop the writ. 

      Never mind that it would be a gesture of bad faith that would make a mockery of his signed commitment to the lieutenant governor and to all British Columbians, in the confidence and supply agreement.

      Or that it would forever kill public confidence in B.C.’s fixed election date law, or in the morally binding nature of any future such CASA in a hung parliament.

      Or that it would send a clarion message to all future opposition parties that cross-party cooperation is a recipe for political disaster, even in the face of a global pandemic.

      All this should be obvious to Horgan, who must also consider the reputational risk to himself and even to Bonnie Henry if he opts to capitalize on her professional neutrality by imposing an early election that everyone except the NDP knows is just wrong.

      Premier John Horgan knows that Health Minister Adrian Dix could raise concerns about the safety of an election, but so far he hasn't done this.

      Who's going to go Anthony Fauci on Horgan?

      I haven’t a clue what advice, if any, Henry or Dix are giving the premier behind closed doors. 

      Yet this much is clear: if they are in fact counselling him to nix his cynical early election opportunism, it clearly hasn’t had much impact on him or on his drooling partisan minions.

      Though I’m still betting he will come to his senses and stand down, when push comes to shove. Henry and Dix could sure help salt that outcome, and should, to give Horgan that added political impetus he seems to be lacking.

      If Henry and Dix really cared as much about British Columbians’ health and welfare as they have so admirably demonstrated, both of them need to use their pulpits to not-so-gently nudge the premier into putting the kibosh on his snap election “opportunity”.

      I’m thinking, maybe with the assistance of yet another new line of Fluevog-designed shoes, artfully etched with “Don’t do it, John!”, in something of a reverse-Nike campaign.

      Time for Henry and Dix to go all Anthony Fauci on Horgan, I say.

      Time to make it clear in every possible professional way—from what they say and do, to their body language—that the last thing B.C. needs now is to compound its COVID surging caseloads with the avoidable risks of an ill-advised election.

      One way to do that would surely be to dramatically ramp up testing way beyond the planned increases.

      That alone would put the fear of God in Horgan, by more forcefully communicating just how widespread B.C.’s escalating COVID problem really is.

      Indeed, if anything, Bonnie Henry has been too timid on that testing front, as she has certainly been in avoiding and downplaying tougher enforcement measures. That has had the effect of minimizing our known reported case counts.

      Like many other British Columbians, Dr. Bonnie Henry, John Horgan, and Adrian Dix have gotten used to wearing masks.

      Cases rise with low test numbers

      B.C.’s COVID testing is hardly cause to celebrate. 

      The waiting times are still ridiculously long and the main message Henry has imparted so far on testing has essentially been “don’t do it, if you can at all avoid it.” 

      Ever since about April, I dare say, most people have concluded that the government would prefer them to shy away from testing unless called upon to take one. 

      If you have symptoms, first ride it out and see how it goes, until you’re feeling so sick you’re desperate enough to wait untold hours upon hours, sometimes day after day, to even get someone to answer your nervous call for help. 

      No, our testing record is nothing to brag about, and Henry and Dix need to fix that—pronto. 

      Take yesterday (September 17) for example.

      B.C. reported its highest-ever new case count, with 165 new COVID cases identified from some 7,674 new tests.

      On that same day, Alberta tested 13,003 people, Quebec tested 24,112 of its citizens, and Ontario tested 35,134 residents. Yet their new cases were 146 (Alta.), 251 (Que.), and 293 (Ont.), respectively.

      In other words, British Columbia had 19 more cases than Alberta with barely over half as many people tested. And we had over half as many new cases as either Quebec or Ontario, with about one-third to one-fifth as many new tests as those provinces conducted yesterday.

      As I write, today, Ontario is reporting 401 new cases of COVID-19—the highest daily increase since early June—from 35,826 tests over yesterday.

      B.C. reported another 179 new COVID cases, including 139 new cases over the last 24 hours, plus 40 additional “historic cases” from patients who contracted the virus between August 11 and September 16 who didn’t have personal health numbers.

      And that one-day increase was identified from just 5,749 new tests—about 2,000 fewer than yesterday’s 7,674 new tests. 

      Pathetic, but too par for the course. 

      I dare say that in largely explaining B.C.’s comparatively “low” new case counts, which has served no one better politically than John Horgan.

      Whoopee. The positivity rate only rose from 2.15 per cent on Thursday to 2.4 per cent in the last 24 hours, for a confirmed grand total of “only” 7,842 identified cases in B.C. 

      Albeit with one of the lowest per capita testing levels in Canada, as CBC’s excellent coronavirus tracker shows. [See “Regional testing rates” graphic.]

      If B.C. was testing at anywhere remotely near the levels of other provinces, our real new case numbers may be way worse than either of those three jurisdictions that we’ve prided ourselves as outperforming to date.

      It suggests our real current COVID numbers could well be possibly the worst in Canada.

      If Henry or Dix only helped make that case surge more glaringly obvious it would probably be enough to make Horgan rethink the political wisdom of his opportunistic gambit.

      If B.C.’s COVID numbers start to spike through the roof, it would probably stop a snap election dead in its tracks.

      With the new oral “swish, gargle and spit” tests just announced for B.C. students—a first in Canada—watch out: those newly identified cases could skyrocket in schools.

      Beyond that, Henry and Dix could start openly commenting on the unwelcome risks that would flow from holding an election a year before its legislated and solemnly committed due date.

      They could wax on about the need for more time for better preparation to maximize safety whenever an election is held. 

      Putting volunteers at risk?

      Whatever stage a vaccine is at a year from now might be far from perfect, but it’s bound to be better than what we face today, to say nothing of all we could learn from the upcoming U.S. general election in how to better protect our citizens a year from now.

      Dix and Henry could even initiate and speculate about new edicts they are suggesting to B.C. chief electoral officer, if the situation gets much worse.

      Do we really want countless election volunteers driving seniors, persons with disabilities, or other especially vulnerable citizens to the polls, masks or not?

      Can we really contemplate encouraging or meekly allowing untold numbers of potential COVID carriers to be knocking on people’s doors or swapping ballots back and forth as scrutineers, let alone attending political rallies or even being used for campaign optics in small group gatherings?

      If not, Henry and Dix should say so—now—without equivocation.

      They should squirm in their safely distanced seats when asked about the wisdom of going to the polls now, in terms of the health risks.

      They should amplify the concerns from Canada’s top doctor, Theresa Tam, who is today warning that the recent spike in new COVID cases could become “unmanageable”. 

      It’s a dire situation that an unnecessary and unwelcome early federal or provincial election could only serve to exacerbate—a reality that both Henry and Dix should directly concede if asked. Or better yet, volunteer.

      It’s sad that it should have to come to this, or that people like me should feel compelled to have to appeal to Henry and Dix to help convince Horgan to do the right thing.

      As I wrote in my last long article in the Straight, I get the political attraction for Horgan of throwing caution to the wind and taking full partisan advantage of this crisis for his own personal and party gain.

      In fact, that was my purely political “take no prisoners” gut reaction to Horgan’s election “opportunity” speculation a couple months ago, I’m ashamed to admit.

      But that was when the daily COVID case numbers were barely a blip in B.C. and going down.

      And that was before really giving due regard to the devastating lasting implications that a widely unwanted snap election would have for what should matter most. Above all, for human safety.

      But also, for public confidence in the rule of law. For the credibility of any future CASA partnerships in a minority government situation. For cross-party cooperation in managing any public crisis. For our democracy and the sanctity of truly fair and competitive elections. And even for the personal reputations of John Horgan, Adrian Dix, and Bonnie Henry.

      If Bonnie Henry has taught us anything over the last nine months with her “stay safe, remain calm, and be kind” mantra, it’s that the key to expert communication is sometimes repetition.

      So, let me repeat what should already be patently clear to B.C.’s deservedly popular premier: don’t do it, John!

      Stay safe, remain calm, and kindly do what’s right, in the public interest.

      You are better than the opportunist that you are in danger of redefining yourself as being above all else. At least I sure want to believe you are. Now prove it. 

      After all, just today, your government has announced that the COVID crisis is so severe as to warrant suspending civil jury trials for a year. 

      Are you f-ing kidding me? 

      On what planet would it make any sense to withhold that basic right from citizens, to prevent groups of eight from sitting in acceptably-spaced proximity in jury trials, while at the same time urging millions of citizens to trundle out to vote at the polling stations? Ludicrous.

      How can you, Henry or Dix be OK with taking such draconian action to “keep people safe” and then try to convince us all that any of you are acting in our best interests by working in concert to impose an unthinkable early election? 

      Just cut the election spec crap and get on with doing what you and your entire team has mostly done so well to date over the last three-plus years: namely, good governing for the betterment of all British Columbians.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, and in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact him via email at