Election could backfire on NDP, UBC prof warns

It’s a high-risk, high-reward gamble for control of the B.C. Legislature, a UBC political scientist says.

NDP leader John Horgan shouldn’t conflate favourable opinion polls today with a sure shot at a majority government, warned Gerald Baier, associate professor of poli sci.

“Any early election is always a risk,” he said.

In 1990, riding high in public opinion, Ontario’s Liberal Premier David Peterson triggered an early election, hoping to consolidate power. He then faced similar accusations of callous opportunism and eventually lost in a major upset by the NDP.

“The choice to do that could really backfire. Or it could be something people shrug off. The premier has made the calculation that people are going to probably shrug it off after a week or two and then start to focus on their record,” he said. “The numbers are good for them right now in terms of popularity, and so it's hard, I think, for any premier or Prime Minister to resist when they've got those kind of numbers to not try and lock in another term.”

Because of the pandemic, it will be harder for the parties to distinguish their longer-term policy positions from those strictly related to the COVID-19 response, Baier said, but he expects some issues like housing, the opioid crisis and homelessness to take up some air time.

On other issues though, like education, the NDP running strictly on their record won’t be so easy, Baier noted.

“There are two new high schools being built on the North Shore where the Liberals stalled on both of those. But will the NDP be able to talk about education in any context other than whether kids should be back in school or not right now? I don't think so,” said Baier, who is also a North Shore resident. “Every issue can be seen through the lens of COVID.”

In terms of local races, the BC Liberals will likely put up a fight to retake North Vancouver-Lonsdale from the NDP, given its history has a Liberal riding and the fact it was won with a less-than 10 per cent margin in 2017.

“Bowinn Ma is a rising star but whether she can hang on to the riding, I think it's one of the ones that the Liberals definitely put some effort into,” he said. “Certainly the Liberals would be very smart to be chasing it.”

West Vancouver-Capilano and West Vancouver-Sea to Sky likely aren’t on anyone’s ridings-to-watch lists though, Baier noted. Baier said he expects the Liberals will continue to be dominant in more rural, resource-oriented parts of the province.

The BC Green Party is in for a very difficult election, Baier predicted, with few ridings expected to go their way and Horgan characterizing himself as the most environmentally responsible leader ready to hold government.

“I think the greens are in trouble,” Baier said.

Baier said he has no question that Elections BC has the skills and creativity to run the election smoothly and safely, although with many ballots expect to come via mail, we might not know the result immediately after the polls are closed.

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