Liberals, Greens slam Horgan for calling snap election during pandemic

As British Columbia's election campaign approaches the finish line, John Horgan's rivals are condemning the New Democrat leader's decision to call an election as COVID-19 infections surged in a second wave.

Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson echoed Green Leader Sonia Furstenau during a campaign stop in Delta on Thursday, calling Saturday's election unnecessary.

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"Our COVID count is way up because we're in the second wave now. We should be looking at the interests of British Columbians in the legislature because John Horgan had a deal that would have lasted for another year," he said, referring to the agreement the NDP struck with the Greens in order to form a minority government after the last election.

> Find more B.C. Election news and candidate profiles here

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced another daily record of 274 cases on Thursday, up from Wednesday's record of 203.

Wilkinson said older people have been hardest hit by the pandemic and it may be more difficult for them to cast a ballot in the election, which was called a year earlier than scheduled in the province's fixed-date election law.

"A lot of people, particularly our most elderly seniors, don't want to go to a public polling place. They may have received a mail-in ballot. They may have trouble filling out the ballot," he said.

"These are all unnecessary obstacles to exercising democratic rights."

B.C.'s top doctor was asked whether there has been any known transmission of COVID-19 related to the election during a media briefing on Thursday.

Henry said public health officials have been communicating closely with Elections BC and she has not heard any concerns about transmission of or exposure to the virus.

"As far as we can tell, things are going really well."

Henry added that she voted at an advanced polling station last week and it went smoothly.

"People were biding their time, wearing masks. The way it was set up met all the criteria that we needed, so I think Elections BC has done an excellent job."

Furstenau called the election unsafe. The number of COVID-19 infections had been on the rise when Horgan called the election last month, she said.

"The calculation was made by John Horgan that it was OK to take the risk of an unnecessary election in this pandemic and now here we are in the second wave," said Furstenau during a campaign stop in Sidney on Vancouver Island.

"We have so many overlapping emergencies and we have parties that have made decisions based on political calculations and four-year election cycles that leave us without the solutions we need."

Horgan fired back, saying he listened to Elections BC and public health officials, who determined that voters could cast their ballots safely.

"We're two days away from the final counting of the ballots, at least those that are in the box, and I'm confident that British Columbians should be safe and comfortable and secure going to vote on Saturday," he said during an online news conference.

Horgan acknowledged he's concerned about rising case numbers, particularly in the Fraser Health region, but said those increases are unrelated to the election and stem largely from social gatherings.

Furstenau said the summer session of the legislature saw some of the most collaborative, cross-party work in decades. In the late stages of the campaign, she has urged voters to see the value in a minority government.

Horgan said he's not worried about the Greens scooping votes away from the NDP, while the Greens touted the party's recent surge in donations.

The Greens said in a release the party has raised nearly $835,000 since Furstenau was elected leader just over five weeks ago, shattering fundraising results from the 2017 election.

Wilkinson also addressed the idea of regional approaches to public health restrictions aimed at fighting COVID-19 on Thursday. He said the strategy has been adopted in the United Kingdom, Ontario, Quebec and Alberta, but not in B.C., where most cases are concentrated around Metro Vancouver.

"This is probably not the best time to be questioning public health advice, but it's a legitimate question and it will need to be addressed as these case counts increase."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2020.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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