This extensive two-part election analysis is much longer than articles that normally appear on media websites. It is a very long read, not intended as a column, as such.
My main intent in exhaustively rehashing the final results in Part A is to try to convey the sheer size and scope of Premier John Horgan’s massive win, in terms of its strategic and historic significance. To skip past that content, scroll down to Part B.
If politics is the art of the possible, governing is the science of the hustle that holds power as its ultimate end and means.
Nothing makes that clearer than B.C. premier John Horgan’s historic electoral hustle—an expertly suckered, perfectly executed, surprise political kill shot that worked as planned to yield a smashing victory and a massive payoff.
It was pretty much a total victory that rewarded Horgan for reneging on his sworn commitment in the GreeNDP confidence and supply agreement by calling his mid-pandemic snap election a year earlier than the fixed election date law that he amended prescribed.
Last Sunday’s final count results were jaw-dropping: 57 NDP MLAs, representing 65 per cent of the 87-seat B.C. legislature, for a 27-seat majority over the 28 B.C. Liberals and the two lonely re-elected B.C. Greens (pending the judicial recount of the Liberals’ 41-vote win over the Greens in West Vancouver-Sea-to-Sky).
It was a smashing triumph for Horgan over the last election result of 43 B.C. Liberals, 41 New Democrats and three B.C. Greens, who gave him his one-seat minority government.
It was easily the largest NDP majority in B.C. history. A victory that made Horgan B.C.’s first-ever true consecutive two-term NDP premier (see end note) and that awarded his team the second most seats and second largest majority ever won by any party in B.C. history.
It was a win that elected 29 NDP women—another historic first—representing over half of the New Democrats’ 57-member caucus.
In total, 37 women were elected, representing 40 percent of the legislature—the most ever in B.C., although still far from equitable.
A record-high nine South Asian MLAs were also elected—all New Democrats.
As we all now know, the NDP won 47.7 per cent of the popular vote—more than its previous record-high of 45.99 per cent, way back in 1979.
It was a feat made all the more remarkable by dint of the fact that Sonia Furstenau’s B.C. Greens also siphoned off 284,312 votes, representing some 15 percent of the popular vote.
She certainly did better than many expected and proved herself to be a formidable campaigner.
Under section 1 of B.C.’s Constitution Act, her party’s two MLAs will still be recognized as an official party, with all the extra resources and remuneration that formal distinction entails.
But don’t kid yourself, the Greens lost significant ground from the 332,331 votes and 16.8 per cent of the popular vote that they received under Andrew Weaver’s leadership in 2017.
And Andrew Wilkinson’s B.C. Liberals?
The final vote tally only deepened the Wilkinson Wipeout, which of course obliged him to resign as leader—a pronouncement that he also mishandled in suggesting that he would stay on as leader until his replacement was chosen.
Friday (November 13), the party’s executive issued a statement announcing a soul-searching outreach process for conducting its “independent” post-mortum and moving forward with its leadership process.
Good luck with that.
They should start by reading Gavin Dew’s excellent analysis detailing Wilkinson’s utter failure to renew his aging team with new blood, “cosmopolitan” values, and demographic diversity that was so obviously central to connecting with younger and multicultural voters, especially in Greater Vancouver and on Vancouver Island.
After counting the 664,315 mail-in and absentee ballots, last weekend, the final result detailed the true depth of the Liberals’ mortifying demise.
Horgan crushed their vote share down to 33.7 percent.
It was their worst showing since 1991, when then-leader Gordon Wilson virtually tied that result with 33.2 percent of the vote, to resurrect his moribund party as the official opposition.
Unlike that game-changing election, this time there was no serious split on the right, apart from the 1.9 percent of the vote that the 19 Conservative candidates collectively reaped in finishing second in two constituencies and third in four others.
Although, that Conservative presence probably cost the B.C. Liberals four seats, in Langley East, Abbotsford-Mission, Chilliwack, and Vernon-Monashee.
Notably, only 54 percent of B.C.’s 3,485,858 registered voters cared enough to participate—the lowest voter turnout in B.C. history.
It was quite the contrast to what happened down south, where the state-by-state turnouts were huge, ranging from 66 to 72 percent.
Yet that low voter turnout in B.C. from the COVID distraction and the predictably disengaged virtual campaign worked like a hot damn for Horgan’s NDP, just as he had anticipated.
Some 1,885,355 British Columbians voted, down 89,357 from the 1,974,712 ballots cast in 2017.
Yet the New Democrats won 899,365 votes—an increase of 103,838 votes, or about 13 percent over the 795,527 votes they received last election.
By contrast, the Liberals lost 160,468 votes from the 797,194 votes they won three-and-a-half years ago.
They only garnered 636,726 votes. Which means they lost about 20 percent of those previous B.C. Liberal voters, despite an overall increase of 239,211 registered voters in this election.
Brutal doesn’t begin to describe that thrashing. It was an epic rejection.
As Dew noted, “Out of a caucus of 28, the BC Liberal Party elected just one person under 40, or four per cent of their MLAs…
“The BC Liberals elected three visible minority MLAs, and seven women—just 25 percent of the caucus. They have not elected an openly LGBTQ+ MLA since Lorne Mayencourt stepped down in 2008, and two prominent MLAs with disabilities were defeated.”
What lesson did Wilkinson draw from that disgrace? As the Breaker’s Bob Mackin revealed, in exposing the Liberals’ Oct. 28 Zoom call, not much.
“It was not because of anything that you did or I did, we gave it our level best and it did not work out,” Wilkinson told his sorry survivors. “We regroup and move on. We are proud of who we are, we are proud of what we’ve done. We have nothing to apologize for.”
For such a smart guy, he sure is a slow learner.
As for the Greens, as the numbers above suggest, their support declined by some 48,019 votes from 2017—a decrease of 14.4 percent in this election’s much higher registered voter universe.
With one smart young woman and one man from the Tsartlip First Nation in their two-person caucus, they can at least celebrate their gender and cultural balance.
The NDP’s regional success was even more astonishing.
Horgan’s candidates won nine of the 11 seats in Vancouver and eight of the 10 seats in Surrey and North Delta.
They swept all nine seats in Burnaby, New Westminster, and the Tri-Cities.
They won six of the seven Greater Victoria constituencies and seven of the other eight seats on Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast.
They won three of the four Richmond ridings and half of the four seats on the North Shore. All record gains.
Perhaps most astoundingly, they scooped seven of the nine seats in the Liberals’ Fraser Valley stronghold, including unprecedented victories in Abbotsford-Mission, in both Chilliwack ridings and in both Langley ridings.
And for all the talk about the NDP’s supposed lack of rural pull, it was only shut out in one region—the five seats in Thompson and Cariboo. The NDP retained both of its seats in the North’s eight constituencies and won two of the four seats in the Kootenays.
Horgan also had historic wins in the previous NDP wasteland of the seven constituencies in the Okanagan, Shuswap, and Boundary region.
His candidate triumphed in Vernon-Monashee—a riding the NDP had never held since it was created in 1991. And the NDP also regained a seat in Boundary-Similkameen that it hadn’t held in 24 years.
Yet here’s the rub.
It was all won through the methodical misapplication of power and self-righteous abuse of public trust for purely partisan gain, dishonestly rationalized in the public interest. [See related stories.]
Because it was legally possible, however morally unthinkable.
Because Horgan rightly bet that with Dr. Bonnie Henry’s tacit support for his snap election, his government would be handsomely rewarded by an overwhelming plurality of voters who didn’t much mind being so snookered.
Because at every step, Horgan so badly outplayed the B.C. Liberals’ rank amateur sewer-ball specialist, who scratched from the opening break shot and only further embarrassed his team as the tuned-out tournament played out to its inevitable conclusion.
Who would’ve thunk it only last spring?
An election? Seriously? In the face of a global pandemic that morally obliged the Liberals and Greens to naïvely place their faith in Horgan’s decency and sense of fair play in jointly fighting a killer virus?
It seemed to afford no space for partisan politics.
Who would have anticipated that Horgan would ever dare under those circumstances to jump-shot the set election date that he prescribed in law and that he solemnly swore to abide by in his Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Greens 2017?
And to then be so resoundingly rewarded for that breach of public promise? The art of the possible is the science of the hustle.
Turns out he had little to fear with Dr. Henry effectively running cover for his COVID campaign, given her seemingly effective management, marked by her trademark approach that is so minimally interventionist and conveniently obliging.
Only now did we learn that, as Vaughn Palmer wrote last Wednesday, “During the five weeks while Horgan was running for re-election, the province recorded a 63 per cent increase in cases, a 60 per cent increase in outbreaks in long-term care facilities and a 57 per cent increase in the number of British Columbians being monitored for symptoms.”
C’est la vie. The election had nothing to do with that, we are assured.
No one got ill or died because of it, we are told. At least not that health officials are officially aware of.
In no way, B.C.’s Good Doctor maintains, did the election interfere with her decisions not to take earlier more forceful action that might have suppressed today’s skyrocketing cases, school outbreaks, hospitalizations, I.C.U. counts, and daily death tolls.
Probably true, considering she still refuses to even make masks mandatory in all indoor public spaces, including B.C.’s classrooms, preferring to put that onus for added protection on businesses and non-health authorities in doing their best to keep us all safe.
Maddening. Frustrating beyond belief. Dumb and irresponsible, many of us might argue. But par for the course that made this pandemic election politically possible.
Horgan will sleep well, convinced that his pre-election “agonizing” led him to do the “right thing”, in the name of stability, to better manage this health and economic crisis in the year(s) ahead.
Let us never forget what he said on September 23, in defending his election blindside, “I’ve struggled mightily with this decision and it did not come easily to me … This pandemic will be with us for a year or more and that’s why I believe we need to have an election now.
“I want to get the election behind us, not for myself but for the people of B.C. because they can’t afford to have partisan hectoring and uncertainty about whether bills will pass or not, which is what we’ve experienced over the past 3½ years … I believe stability will come by asking the people of British Columbia where they want to go and who they want to lead them.”
How selfless of him.
He got what he wanted and now totally owns the government’s success or failure in responding to the COVID crisis, as it explodes with record force and consequence under Henry’s arguably too kind, too passive hand.
Truth is, Horgan’s entire success as party leader has always ridden on others underestimating his true capability and character.
Had he not succumbed to the “call of duty” in leveraging his enormous COVID-enhanced popularity to win as he did, every action taken over the next 12 months would have been scrutinized for its partisan intent. He’s right about that.
Still, I doubt anyone seriously believes that Horgan would have ever acted as he did by calling an unwanted early election if he wasn’t dead-sure he would handily win it.
Had he been tied or trailing in the polls instead of leading by large double digits, his argued “need for stability” would have surely meant the opposite.
He never would have dreamt of “letting the people decide” a year before his legislated term was up who should manage the COVID crisis.
So, his motives, however conflicted, were mostly, black as an eight-ball.
Will we never learn that, in politics, anything goes and everything is possible if the one calling the shots is a world class shark who is as skilled, ruthless, lucky, and opportunistic as his opponents are the opposite?
Advantage always goes to the one who is most adept at bending the rules and the truth to win at all costs. That was the central upshot from this election.
Except in politics, unlike Paul Newman’s "Fast” Eddie Felson pool shark in The Hustler, no one gets their thumbs broken for cheating.
On the contrary, usually, they walk away victorious and history vindicates their chicanery; for all it remembers is who wins and loses, and not how that happened.
So, it will be with this election.
No matter, it’s all water under the bridge now.
All that’s left is for us to fathom the import of all that has transpired.
Of this, there can be no doubt: the strategic sweep of Horgan’s massive victory has forever changed the shape and substance of B.C.’s political landscape—geographically, ideologically, and tactically.
Lying pays political dividends
First, for all intent and purposes, it has seriously cracked if not shattered the very foundation of B.C.’s post-2001 electoral system predicated on legislated fixed election dates.
Horgan showed that that law isn’t worth the paper it is written upon, if at any time the polls suggest it is most opportune to blindside the opposition with a snap election.
As in those uncertain days of yore, when all premiers kept us all guessing when they would pull the plug to maximize their odds, public interest be damned.
That is particularly salient for the B.C. Liberals, insofar as it impacts their leadership planning and other organizational timing.
They shouldn’t count on having four years to get their full act together, whatever that entails.
Ditto for the Greens.
We are through the looking glass once again. In the new context of renewed uncertainty about the next election date, anything is possible, even another election in a few years.
That is, if all the stars magically realign to once again convince Horgan that his odds of winning yet another term will never be better.
I, for one, will never trust him again to keep his word, if breaking it serves his higher partisan purposes.
And that pains me to say, as someone who regular readers will know has mostly been one of his biggest and most vocal fans.
Friedrich Nietzche once famously said, “I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.”
That might be some voters’ reaction, considering how we continue to elect politicians in the expectation they are lying and can’t be trusted to honour their commitments.
We tend to only get truly upset if the promises they break much matter to us and as CBC documented, Horgan deserves some credit for honouring at least 79 percent of his 2017 election promises.
And yet, my blood still boils that he lied about such an important facet of our legislated electoral system and of the core social contract that underpinned B.C.’s “responsible government” in the face of a hung parliament.
He lied to his Green partners-in-mime, to the lieutenant-governor and the Crown, and to all British Columbians and a record number of NDP voters happily validated that conduct.
The unmistakable message that that vote of confidence sends, as we see time and time again in politics, is that lying works. Even if it involves reneging on laws and written commitments that go the very heart of our democracy.
Horgan clearly feels that legislated fixed election dates don’t work so well for minority governments, when the government might theoretically fall from a non-confidence vote at any time.
Although the risk of that happening under the GreeNDP CASA was about as great as the odds of Donald Trump keeping his job. In both cases, it’s all just b.s. and bluster.
Let’s assume that, in hindsight, he never fully realized just how “wrong” he was to solemnly commit in law and in a written contract to a fixed election date.
Let’s pretend that he subsequently felt obliged to obliterate that commitment “not for myself but for the people of B.C.”
That was then and this is now. What of the future?
If Horgan even remotely expects us to trust him again, he should at least recommit himself to honour the 2024 set election date that he set in law, for whatever that promise worth.
He should expressly disavow any potential for an early election, given the strength of his majority government, and further amend that law to leave no wiggle room for repeat abuse.
I wouldn’t bet a nickel on that happening, because this election proved that most voters don’t really give a fig how about being duped on such principles.
As last year’s federal election also demonstrated, this campaign served to remind us that ethics are near the bottom of most voters’ concerns in choosing who should lead their governments.
Big victory will trigger talk of electoral reform
Second, Horgan’s politically successful betrayal of his government’s former CASA partners also changed the ground rules for hung parliaments, as it also should provide renewed impetus for electoral reform.
No party holding the balance of power will ever again so naïvely enter into such a formal power-sharing arrangement in the expectation that it will be honoured by the governing party.
Plus, this election proved in spades that working cooperatively and in good faith with the government mostly serves to get the junior partner coopted and the official opposition marginalized.
Sadly, it is now a political sucker’s proposition to take that bet—even in the face of an unprecedented global health crisis—which punishes moral conduct and stands to reward any opportunistic premier’s unscrupulous action.
Sadly, in our system of parliamentary democracy, opposition parties mostly serve to diminish their own relevance and political currency if they ever fail to stand apart from the government that stands to most benefit from their virtuous support.
Why should we care?
Because it flies in the face of the thing that most voters say they really want: namely, for parties to work together in the public interest, instead of always acting at odds with one another. Doing that just gets you killed, Horgan’s snookered victory suggests.
Because, in the absence of reliable fixed elections and essential trust in formal CASAs, future minority governments under our current electoral system will also likely be much less stable, harder to manage, and far less productive than the one that Horgan blew up.
And that, in turn, will probably make the Greens’ future arguments for electing minority governments under our first-past-the-post system a harder political sell.
Which is a real shame, if like me, you believe that no party elected with a minority of votes should be given absolute power in a parliament that is not remotely representative of how any widely supported party actually performed.
It is unconscionable that the Greens’ 15 percent share of the popular vote only translated into a measly two seats affording them two percent of the voices in B.C.’s 87-seat legislature.
That is grossly unfair to the nearly 300,000 B.C. voters who supported the Greens.
But as we all now know, Horgan never would have had it any other way.
To say that he and Attorney General David Eby effectively sabotaged their own 2018 referendum on electoral reform is an understatement.
That was the first shot across the bow that should have alerted the B.C. Greens and all voters that Horgan was one exceptionally clever hustler, whose paramount goal is winning bigger.
And yet, politics has a way of imposing its own karma, if not instantly.
Paradoxically, the sheer magnitude of the NDP’s win should also serve to strengthen their arguments for proportional representation that diminishes any premier’s unfettered power. Especially in inappropriately wielding that authority in a minority government.
If the B.C. Liberals’ coalition ultimately collapses into any number of ideological factions, each of those “players” will increasingly be drawn to embrace proportional representation in their own partisan interest.
Because they likely won’t win large without it.
I know it’s like beating a tired mule, after B.C. voters’ resounding rejection of P.R. yet again, but watch for that call for electoral reform to be a central rallying cry for “change” in 2024.
It will resonate much more in years to come as Horgan’s government loses its lustre and as others across Canada continue to beat that drum until someone makes it sing.
Especially as younger British Columbians and those who care deeply about meaningful climate action and serious social progress grow in political strength and importance.
In years to come, many more of those aging millenials and Gen Zers will yearn for their voices to be better represented in government.
By throwing his lot and unprecedented billions of dollars in public subsidies behind Big Oil to advance his LNG pipe dreams, Horgan has fossil-fuelled the Greens’ longer-term hopes for renewed interest in proportional representation.
No matter what other steps he takes to advance his currently hopeless climate plan, it will never add up in meeting his legislated climate targets.
Climate-conscious voters will increasingly come to conclude that a key step in raising public pressure on politicians to take meaningful action aimed at saving our planet from humanity’s suicidal tendencies is to increase representation in the legislature.
If Joe Biden’s supposed commitment to climate action adds any new energy to that political imperative, the lopsided results and disproportionate representation from this election will also strengthen public support for P.R.
Ironically, it is NDP who now stands to lose the most by that electoral reform it once purported to support—in no small measure, because of the inordinate strength of Horgan’s victory.
Mail-in votes must accounted for
Third, this election permanently challenges the shopworn adage that “campaigns matter”.
Of course, they still will, as this one sure did. If only in determining the extent of the NDP’s sure-shot majority.
But after Horgan’s big win, campaigns may well matter much less.
As noted above, some 664,315 mail-in and absentee ballots were cast through this campaign.
My guess is, that number will only go up in future elections now that voters have experienced how much easier and more convenient it is to vote remotely. Including by phone, for some.
For now, Elections BC owes it all voters to tell us now how many of the 724,279 mail-in packages it sent out arrived too late to be counted.
It estimated that some 497,900 mail-in ballots had been received before midnight on October 23, and it subsequently reported on the additional ballots included in the final vote count.
But what we still don’t know, far as I am aware, is how many ballots were mailed too late to arrive before the 8 p.m. cut-off on election night.
Tens of thousands? More?
How do those ineligible ballots break down by constituency? Elections BC surely knows all that by now, no?
What happened to them, anyway? Perhaps I’m missing something.
Had the election result been a squeaker, we would have all been clamouring to know, as I expect all candidates are likely wondering. Would those post-disqualified ballots have made a difference in any race, including in West Vancouver–Sea to Sky?
At a minimum, if mail-in votes are to ever again play such a central role in future campaigns, Horgan should commit to amend the law to ensure that all ballots postmarked by or before voting day are eligible to be counted.
That’s the way it works in many states in the U.S.A., as it should here.
It’s mindboggling that B.C. voters should blithely accept being effectively disenfranchised by Canada Post, through no fault of that Crown corporation, to the extent that any votes were disqualified because they were not delivered before 8 p.m. election night.
Worse yet, many of those disenfranchised mail-voters will never know if their ballots made it in on time before the deadline. They may assume their votes counted when they did not, in fact.
Beyond that issue, the enormous volume of mail-in and absentee votes dramatically minimized the strategic importance of the campaign.
That most hurt Sonia Furstenau’s party, given her strong performance in the late-campaign leaders’ debates that did so much to enhance her name recognition and reputation.
When votes are mailed in, elections are mailed in and largely decided early—in this case, well before the leaders’ TV and radio debates that were always so critical to the NDP’s main contenders.
The strategic, tactical, and logistical implications of that shift are huge and are bound to be compounded by online voting, whenever that inevitably takes flight.
At a minimum, it should make the argument for more and earlier leaders’ debates.
As I argued, failing to drive that demand early and often in the campaign was one of the Liberals’ and Greens’ key strategic errors.
The debate media “conglomerate” also badly dropped that ball in conspiring to schedule only one televised leaders’ debate far too late for even it to make much difference, given the huge mail-in and absentee vote.
By the same token, what this election also shows, as in virtually every instance south of the U.S. border, is that progressive parties and candidates stand to reap major belated windfalls from mail-in voting when those votes are finally counted.
Especially from demographic cohorts that were previously disenfranchised or disinclined to vote.
In the long run, hopefully, that will also increase voter turnout as it did in America, where participation was also fuelled by Trump’s 11th-hour success in bolstering election day turnout.
Advantage NDP and B.C. Greens. Advantage democracy.
And a further strategically decisive concern for B.C. Liberals, particularly if they fail to find a younger, more charismatic leader with the organizational chops to match.
Horgan effectively rebrands NDP
Fourth, and perhaps most strategically important, this election has fundamentally challenged the central narrative that has dominated and shaped B.C.’s political landscape since at least 1933.
For at least 87 years, the overriding “mission” for most centre-right voters has always been to defeat the CCF/NDP.
Underlying that centre-right imperative was the ideological straw man of the “need” to defeat the “socialist hordes at the gate” as the party of Big Unions and Big Government that supposedly couldn’t manage a popcorn stand.
At the root of the contemporary version of that absurd narrative was the issue of fiscal responsibility, administrative competence, economic prowess, and the distribution of wealth—class, in other words.
The NDP was branded over eight decades as a party that couldn’t be trusted to balance the budget.
It was supposedly all about raising taxes, spending like drunken sailors, and running every program in government into the ground through mismanagement and utopian pie-in-the-sky notions.
All of that has been fundamentally and possibly forever rendered ludicrous and moot by Horgan’s deft political management and mostly stellar performance in government.
He didn’t just dispel that narrative by his administrative example, he pretty much destroyed it.
There’s a reason Horgan is so popular with so many British Columbians who have typically voted for centre-right parties to defeat the NDP at all costs.
It’s certainly not just because of his affable personality, strong communication skills, and reassuring example.
No, what he has done unlike any of his NDP predecessors as premier is to fundamentally reposition his social democratic party.
It is now, demonstrably—at least for now—an overtly competent, safe, responsible, and essentially small-l liberal alternative for the centre-left and centre-right alike.
Social democracy is no longer the scary concept it was even under the Harcourt/Clark/Miller/Dosanjh “dark decade” for many, if not most, traditional centre-right voters.
The times have caught up with that ideology that has also morphed into a new form of liberalism that is now deeply woven into the very fabric of Canadian political culture.
That modern hybrid ideology has finally escaped the Cold War, across Canada.
Moreover, Horgan has fashioned his party’s substantive rebranding without sacrificing its traditional claim as the main vehicle for more progressive, humane, equitable, environmentally conscious, and socially responsive governance.
This poses a huge existential problem for the B.C. Liberals and for their next leader, as it also stands to change the dynamics on both sides of the political spectrum in the next four years. I’ll explore that in some depth in a future column.
In some ways, Horgan’s NDP might actually have been inadvertently aided by the re-election of the two Green MLAs.
Their presence in the legislature in this new majority government is bound to push them ever further left. Just as many in the Liberals’ depleted ranks will also see their salvation in more clearly embracing so-called “conservative” causes on the far right, while others in their midst strive to hitch their rebranding to the green/progressive wagon.
That might do two things.
One, it stands to further consolidate the status of Horgan’s NDP as the de facto new “big tent” centrist party, in contrast to the more ideologically ardent alternatives on the left and right.
And two, it is bound to set in motion divisive new debates not only within the B.C. Green party, but also within the B.C. Liberal party and even within the NDP.
Those debates will largely centre on just how centrist and broadly responsive those parties should or should not be in trying to win over and/or retain all those largely urban voters who are now solidly in Horgan’s camp.
How that translates into the relative importance and positional stances on the most salient issues of our time remains to be seen.
Suffice it to say, public frustration with growing problems like global warming, affordable housing, the opioid crisis, urban crime and safety, and other such issues is bound to grow.
The thing is, the NDP can never hope to meet the demands and expectations of so many of those who voted for Horgan’s government to more effectively address them.
And the fallout from COVID hasn’t even really begun yet.
That will start in earnest over the next year as more people get ill and die, the debt piles up, the money runs out, more businesses go broke and more structural unemployment sets in.
If you think that people are losing patience today with having their “liberties” and livelihoods compromised in the name of public health, stay tuned.
It’s going to get ugly, even with a vaccine in the offing.
The health, economic and fiscal pressures that COVID has already exponentially compounded will ultimately oblige Horgan to make hard choices in terms of taxes, services and economic interventions.
They will only be further aggravated by more vocal and less compromising pressure from the left and right alike.
Winning such a strong majority government at this time could yet prove to be a pyrrhic victory in the longer term for any party anywhere.
It could be tantamount to being the government in power before the worst of the Great Depression really took its toll, without the same fiscal and visionary room for a politically rewarding “new deal”.
The gulf between public needs, desires and expectations and governments’ capacity to meet them has never been greater in B.C. history.
COVID has only exponentially compounded that deficit, which is generational and global by nature and will increasingly be driven by climate change, global demographics, and economic and fiscal realities that afford no easy ready remedies.
That aside, by betraying the B.C. Greens and so unfairly taking advantage of them and the B.C. Liberals as he did, Horgan’s new appeals for cross-party support in answering many of those challenges will be met with deeply bitter middle fingers.
Another hugely strategic consequence of this election.
Given Horgan’s penchant for fossil-fueled growth—and the frustrations and management challenges that go hand-in-hand with the massive majority he now enjoys—I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the Greens become effectively the “new NDP” in years to come.
If the NDP hopes to be the new Liberals, in effect, the Greens stand to become the go-to progressive alternative, without feeling encumbered by the political practicalities of the art of the truly possible in government. Least of all, by any government with as broad of a regional and ideological political base as Horgan now has.
I can imagine disaffected NDP MLAs at some point bolting to the Green party, if the polls go south and their individual dreams and goals go sour as COVID rages on.
It might not happen, but the very strength of Horgan’s win also poses its own internal management pressures that may well tend to create perceived “winners” and “losers” within the NDP caucus.
As time and troubles march on, it can become very tempting for some of those who never find their way into Horgan’s cabinet to lose patience with their backbencher status and with their party’s direction and “timidity” in addressing the issues that drove them to run for office.
The challenge for all New Democrats in the face of that reality is to stay focused, remain united, and draw strength from that predictable rising threat on the left to succeed where their past governments have failed.
It helps to have 57 seats and a 27-seat majority, believe me, in governing with confidence.
But the risks of becoming arrogant, overconfident, and unresponsive to those “who brought you to the dance” is no less a tangible vulnerability for any such majority that loses sight of its own vision and democratic rationale.
B.C. Liberals paid a price for abandoning centre
Fifth, in a bizarre turn of events, the B.C. Liberals have now become an old, tired, mostly white-male and rural, anything-but-liberal party.
Which is to say, they are now a sad caricature of the Socreds in its last days. And worse, they are a party that is completely at odds with and divorced from their ideological namesake.
That trend has been amplified over the last three elections and really escalated under Christy Clark’s watch.
The Liberals not only finished third in 16 ridings, they got decimated in the seats that were so key to Gordon Wilson’s 1991 B.C. Liberal revival. Which Gordon Campbell subsequently leveraged in 1996 to win the popular vote, even with a split on the right at that time from Reform BC.
Of the 17 seats the Liberals shocked B.C. by winning in 1991, to re-establish their dominance on the centre-right, all but two of them were Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and Greater Victoria.
Those two outlier seats on the Sunshine Coast and in Kelowna were held by—drum roll, please—Gordon Wilson and Judy Tyabji.
Of those 17 seats so key to the Liberals’ rebirth, Wilkinson lost 11 of them, or 11 and a half, if you count the single Richmond seat they won this time from the four constituencies that had previously been represented by only three ridings in 1991.
Of the 33 seats that Gordon Campbell’s B.C. Liberal party then won in 1996 before “uniting the right”, Wilkinson lost more than half of them. He only won 16 of those constituencies.
Why is this important?
Because it highlights the ideological and regional depth of the Liberals’ increasing marginalization from its early '90s “revival roots.”
It’s hilarious to watch Christy Clark now admonishing her party about how it must change to save itself from the very dynamic that she created and exacerbated.
Suddenly, she’s a champion for combatting climate change, systemic discrimination, and the gender wage gap.
Now she’s lecturing her former caucus colleagues about the need to support First Nations and the LGBTQ community and to “find a way through what used to be called those conscience issues".
Her stock and trade as premier was essentially running away from that desperately needed leadership in government.
In her zeal to shore up her conservative base and prove that she was not the “lefty” federal Liberal that many had accused her of being, she stuck her party’s ideological flag firmly in the dirt—in every conceivable sense.
No one did more than her to box her party into an ideological corner that consigned its base support to the regions that population growth dictate will increasingly have less political clout.
It was mostly because of her decided shift to the far right—predicated on an overriding preoccupation for rural resource development at the expense of climate action and socially progressive policies—that Wilkinson went out even further on that shaky limb.
The liberal-Liberal base bent down under Clark’s tenure. It then altogether snapped under “Andy CAPP” Wilkinson’s inept leadership.
Again, Horgan masterfully exploited that ideological and regional tension, as he surely will in driving it as the Liberals try to grapple with their existential crisis and who should lead them.
Wilkinson unwittingly further compounded it: through his ill-advised opposition attacks over the last two years; through his campaign platform and related vote-buying “goodie bag”; and through his bungling of the myriad campaign controversies that so alienated so many liberal-minded swing voters.
Disgraced defeated B.C. Liberal MLA Jane Thornthwaite isn’t entirely wrong in her apologetic assessment of her embarrassing conduct and the bully-boy-party that her bunch has become.
Her notorious campaign fiasco was all too emblematic of the Liberals’ hypocritical, double-standard treatment of her deplorable conduct, in view of all her leader tolerated from the likes of Laurie Throness prior to his campaign contributions to the Wilkinson Wipeout.
This election showed just how deeply politically beholden to its far-right “religious” regional base the Liberals have become, at the expense of so many of the values that defined that party, way back in Gordon Wilson’s day.
Not that any of that will necessarily prove fatal to the Liberals’ long-term survival and potential resurgence as B.C.’s “naturally governing party.”
Given the record-low voter turnout and the nature of this campaign, it’s way too premature to write the Liberals’ obituary as the truly provincial alternative they mostly created under Campbell’s 18-year tenure as leader.
Yet, he too learned in 2005 that regions and supporters won in 2001 can just as easily be lost in a single term—especially if the premier is so short-sighted as to rekindle the age-old ideological narrative noted above.
Central to Campbell’s 2009 re-election success was a decided shift to liberalism, underpinned by his commitment to climate action, a new relationship with First Nations, and social investments he never would have contemplated in his first term.
Christy Clark reversed all of that and Wilkinson couldn’t get his head wrapped around the fact that he was an even less believable reincarnation of Wacky Bennett.
“Us against Them” only works if both sides choose to engage on the same basic ideological turf as diametric opposites, with starkly opposing visions, policies, and ideas about what’s most important and who really matters.
Which is why the Liberals must find a way to differentiate themselves from the NDP by positioning themselves as, above all, a centrist force for socially progressive change.
Because although there was zero appetite for change this time around, as Horgan well knew, next election might well be a very different story.
If Horgan’s as smart as he showed himself to be in his first term as premier, and if the Liberals’ aren’t as dumb as their recent record suggests, it won’t be a radical difference in ideology that determines the narrative of that will for change.
Rather, it will be other issues—hard urban social challenges, economic and fiscal growing pains, scandals, leadership fatigue, and the like—that will most drive voters’ decisions.
If the Liberals can hang tight together in the legislature and move deliberately back to promise of their label—or perhaps better yet, change it altogether—the desire for change might resolve itself in a very different way.
Sometimes voters don’t so much want an ideological swing in government as they simply do a competent, proudly-centrist new government. With a new premier, new blood, fresh ideas, and new reasons for hope.
Sometimes, they just get bored and fed up with the powers-that-be. Never more so than when those governments become complacent, distracted, and divorced from their central ideological brand promises.
For most of B.C.’s history, it has been fear and anger that has mainly galvanized voters’ behaviour, not hope. Sad, but true.
What this election stands to change is how rural and regional dynamics play into that equation.
The challenge for the Liberals is that urban voters now fear them most. And they are still rightly angry for having their voices and concerns so badly ignored for so long, dating back to 2001.
As such, this election was as much a referendum on the Liberals’ record and approach in government as it was a vote of confidence in Horgan’s steady, competent and comparatively humble administration.
The Liberals also gave those disaffected traditional supporters little cause for hope, particularly in the last decade.
Horgan won every age group by a landslide.
He slaughtered the Liberals in virtually every demographic historically disposed to vote against the NDP. He out-polled them on every issue and core competence.
That, too, was historic and incredibly strategic, as all parties look towards the long game.
And here’s the “double whammy”.
After this election, the Liberals will almost certainly newly anger the marginalized regional base to which they are almost entirely beholden, as they tack back to the left, either timidly or boldly.
Rural voters’ fears of what the Liberals might embrace, in their effort to regain lost small-l liberals in the vote-rich region south coast, will be Horgan’s ace card to legitimately exploit.
He can do that with legislation, policies and regional dialogues aimed at engaging public discourse on the problems and solutions that are near and dear to their hearts.
Again, with his massive majority, the premier is now free to travel the province as he chooses, COVID aside.
He should have no problem further building his regional base, as he also erodes the Liberals’ regional solidarity in the central interior and the north in any number of ways.
It’s his break shot, as it were. And it should be fun to watch.
In conclusion, the strategic sweep of Horgan’s historic electoral hustle is vast and multifaceted.
The size of his victory has set its own “cue balls” in motion that beg to be understood, monitored, avoided, and strategically capitalized upon.
In my initial rant in response to Horgan’s snap election, I christened him Premier Capitalist.
Something tells me, we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.
The magnitude of his majority and how he won it give him and his party a new hold on power that is nevertheless more tenuous than it might appear if not deftly exercised.
I wish him well, for all the good his evil deed has also done and might yet serve.
And I hope like hell the B.C. Greens and the B.C. Liberals are both up to their respective jobs in holding Horgan’s NDP government accountable for smartly advancing the vision it was re-elected to realize in perhaps the most challenging period ever in B.C. history.
[End note: Glen Clark was not the NDP leader when Harcourt was elected premier in 1991. Although his term as premier did straddle two terms after being selected to lead the NDP in February 1996 following Harcourt’s resignation, and then winning the most seats with fewer votes than Campbell’s Liberals received in the ensuing election only a few months later.]