Democracy is good. More democracy is almost always better and in the public interest.
Usually. But 2020 is different, you may have noticed and there’s no good public-serving reason to be found for British Columbians to head to the polls this fall for a provincial election.
The only reasons are partisan and self-interested politics of the sort the NDP previously derided their opponents for practising.
By now it seems to be an open secret that the NDP intends to call a snap election this fall. Ridings are lining up candidates, and MLAs who intend on stepping away from politics have been told to make it official.
Maybe, at some point, the party will come up with a good reason why it might trigger an election, but I doubt it.
I certainly haven’t been able to think up a good reason why the BC NDP can’t continue to govern as they have for the past three years. Things are rolling along smoothly, and if the BC Liberals don’t want an election – and they don’t – the government isn’t going to lose a confidence vote.
Of course, it’s easy to see why Premier John Horgan might think it’s in his and his party’s political interests to call an election now. Both Horgan and his government are as popular as they have ever been. They were doing a good enough job before COVID-19 hit, and the province’s response during the pandemic has been lauded. It hasn’t been perfect, by any means, but it’s been enough to push the party well above the BC Liberals in the polls.
The BC Liberals, meanwhile, struggled to figure out how to act in opposition. And while they’ve carried themselves well during the pandemic, being in opposition means they can’t take credit for much more than being supportive of public health measures.
If those polls were to hold until election day, Horgan could look forward to four years of a majority the likes of which he couldn’t dream of a year ago.
So, yeah, there’s a political reason to hold an election. And, yes, they probably have the legal right to do so. But that doesn’t make it morally right.
In normal times, political reasons for elections can dovetail with the public interest. It’s important our governments reflect the public’s will, so it’s good when voters get a chance to express that will at the ballot box. Doing so is how we link the public with government. Elections are also a time for the public and politicians to debate new ideas, and for the media to examine the records of politicians.
But we already have a government that reflects the public’s will. It’s not like the Green Party is driving the bus at the current moment. Our NDP government can do pretty much what it wishes and govern like it has a majority. It doesn’t need a dozen more backbenchers in the legislature.
Even so, an election would be tolerable in a normal environment. But 2020 isn’t normal.
An election this fall isn’t only needless, it will be held under circumstances that make it all but useless in terms of the above benefits for the public, even assuming that campaigning and voting can happen in a relatively safe manner.
The ideas up for debate will be minimal. Everything will be about the pandemic and the government’s response to it. Traditional campaigning is pretty much impossible. And the media, through which many of those discussions occur, will have limited time to provide the coverage that elections deserve. Its attention, and that of the public, will be on the very latest public health responses to COVID-19, not on what your local candidate thinks about, say, agriculture or forestry. (That’s not even to speak of the significant job losses that have hit media outlets during the pandemic.)
There’s just no reason an election shouldn’t wait until next year.
Maybe Horgan will come to his senses. Or maybe he will realize that he faces the risk of a substantial backlash if he calls an election that the public deems unnecessary and – fairly or not – risky during a pandemic. One thing is for sure, few things would be more in keeping with this stupid, stupid year than an election that turns on how people feel about the calling of that election. Indeed, maybe it’s inevitable; in 2020, if something can go wrong, it probably will.
Tyler Olsen is a reporter at the Abbotsford News.
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