Is this an election year? - The Orca
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Is this an election year?

Maclean Kay
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Every year since taking office, the NDP government has faced speculation they might call an early election. 2020 is no different.

The fate of every minority government is to face endless speculation about how long it will last. BC’s NDP government has been no different.

These questions have been asked since John Horgan’s first press conference as Premier, and haven’t stopped since. At this point in his mandate, it’s now a question of whether the election comes this year, or next.

One of the reasons there’s been so much speculation in BC is plausibility. There are valid reasons to talk yourself into thinking the NDP will go to the polls early – and just as valid reasons why they won’t.

In the interest of straddling the fence, here are two reasons for each.

So, is there going to be an election this year?

YES: Make hay while the sun shines

There’s a school of thought that next year, the NDP won’t have it quite so good.

It starts with normal wear and tear. Like a new car, the value of every new government declines once you drive it off the lot.

Some issues are self-inflicted (the Massey Tunnel mess, the Employers Health Tax), some beyond their control (a general national economic slowdown, whatever Donald Trump pulls in the next year), some a mix of both (ICBC, forestry). Either way, the more time between elections, the more dents and dings accumulate.

Beyond normal wear and tear, some looming issues might make an early election especially tempting.

The main one is the bottom line. It looks an awful lot like they might have to defend a deficit.

After inheriting a $2.7 billion surplus, it has been whittled down to a precarious $149 million – while raising taxes. The NDP will say there are mitigating circumstances. And to some extent, they’ll have a point. But the numbers are already alarming, trending in the wrong direction, and aren’t in dispute. The NDP always have to swim against the perception they can’t be trusted not to spend until the bank breaks, and very very badly want to be able to say the books are balanced.

Next year, that looks less certain.

NO: The Gathering Storm

Every word above has a counterpoint – some problems may well be worse this year than next.

For example, there’s a very real risk of a BCTF strike (or lockout) later this year. If that happens, the NDP would prefer as much time as possible lapses between the inevitable back-to-work legislation and the next vote.

Bad enough, but it could be worse. The NDP’s nightmare scenario is having to enforce the construction of a pipeline over strenuous – and (hopefully not) potentially violent – First Nations protest.

In opposition, such a situation would have moved the NDP to incandescent, righteous fury. In government, things are always more complicated. Problem is, a significant percentage of the NDP’s support base simply won’t accept “things are more complicated in government.”

The exact percentage in question is probably less than many think, but this government has almost zero electoral margin for error – and Green junior partners that need to find ways to differentiate themselves. Speaking of whom…

YES: Apres le médecin, le deluge?

Much depends on this month’s Green leadership vote.

In Andrew Weaver, the NDP had an enthusiastic partner, who describes John Horgan as a friend. Yes, Weaver caused a few headaches for the NDP, forcing amendments to the Speculation Tax, and steadfastly refusing to play ball on removing the secret ballot for union certification. But on balance, it was a stable situation. With someone else at the helm, who knows?

If Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau wins, not much may change; she’s bound as a signatory to the Confidence and Supply Agreement (CASA). But if someone else wins, all bets are off. They may honour CASA, or they might not.

And if – for example – the NDP are put into the position of having to enforce a judicial order to continue construction on a pipeline project anathema to many Green supporters…

That would be an interesting day.

NO: Would you risk your dream job?

This last point is more observation and speculation than hard evidence, but indulge me for a paragraph or two.

On balance, I don’t think the NDP want to risk it. Not just for the obvious reason (and cliché) that “the worst day in government is better than the best day in opposition.” And not just because the NDP are smart enough to know they won fewer votes and seats than the BC Liberals, and may have reached their realistic electoral peak.

Those things are true, but I think the reason they wait is because they’re happy.

Consider being an NDP staffer. Political staff can be vagabonds, following their chosen party across the country, where opportunities arise. With ties to Conservative and Liberal parties across Canada, there are – literally – exponentially more possibilities for BC Liberal staff willing to move. But BC has Canada’s only NDP government, with no immediately obvious successor elsewhere.

Put simply, these staff have fewer options, and will want to keep their jobs – quite understandably.

But it’s not just the staff. The ultimate decider has been very clear how he feels about being Premier.

Horgan has spoken many times about how transformative being in government has been for him, and how much happier he is. Having observed him since 2011, this is absolutely true.

Would he risk another year of his dream job? I just don’t see it.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca

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