Jack Knox: Even with the smoke, it's clear election looms

It’s smoky out there. Need-headlights-at-4-p.m. smoky. Not as bad as newsrooms in 1982, mind you, but still as gloomy as a travel agent.

We can see one thing clearly, though: It looks like an election is coming.

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Or maybe that’s elections, plural.

That includes a slight chance of a federal campaign. Justin Trudeau will need the support of at least one other party to keep his minority government propped up beyond next Wednesday’s throne speech.

He’ll probably get it, though, negating the need for another excruciating election/apologython.

In Victoria, the byelection to replace Laurel Collins, the rookie city councillor who jumped to federal politics last fall, likely won’t happen until early 2021, disappointing those who had expected the vote in November.

With candidates including the hard-charging Stephen Andrew, who has been critical of council’s handling of crime and homelessness, this one will be more interesting — and consequential — than your garden variety ho-hum mid-term campaign.

What really seems likely is a provincial election, whether we need – or want – one or not. While Premier John Horgan says he hasn’t yet made up his mind about calling a snap election, the economic recovery plan he unveiled Thursday sure reads like something on which a party could run a campaign.

And while the province’s newish (it only goes back to 2001) fixed-date election law says British Columbians aren’t scheduled to trundle to the polls until October 2021, the political positioning we saw this week was typical of what you would see before an election call.

With Judy Darcy’s announcement Thursday, we have now seen five cabinet ministers — Darcy, Doug Donaldson, Shane Simpson, Michelle Mungall and Vancouver Island’s Scott Fraser— declare in recent days that they won’t run again.

Other candidates have declared themselves in, including a couple of big names. Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne is going after the NDP spot being vacated by Fraser in the Mid Island-Pacific Rim riding.

New Democrat Murray Rankin, whose retirement as Victoria member of Parliament created the opening filled by Collins last fall, has announced his intention to contest the Oak Bay-Gordon Head seat currently held by former Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, who isn’t running again.

The candidacy of Rankin, who had been assumed to have left politics for good when Trudeau appointed him federal security watchdog last year, is seen as a surefire sign an election looms. Former Oak Bay councillor Michelle Kirby is also seeking the nomination.

Meanwhile, two people, Grace Lore and Stephanie Papik, are going after the NDP nomination in Victoria-Beacon Hill, which has been held since 2005 by the respected/beloved Carole James. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the finance minister and deputy premier announced in March that she would not run again. Those endorsing Lore include former MLA Maureen Karagianis, former Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin and James’ daughter Alison James.

Why call a snap election? Horgan has been making noises about the NDP’s shifting relationship with the Greens, whose support has been key to his minority government. But is that a reason or an excuse?

The New Democrats’ prospects might never be better than they are now. They are riding high in the polls, higher than they may be next year as COVID drags on and the mask jokes wear thin. They have won praise for their handling of the pandemic, particularly the way they took partisanship out of the equation by letting Dr. Bonnie Henry lead the response.

Three weeks ago, an Angus Reid Institute survey pegged Horgan as the most popular premier in Canada, with a 69 per cent approval rating. Meanwhile, after 2 1/2 years as Liberal leader, Andrew Wilkinson still needs a name tag.

The million-dollar question is whether the NDP would squander all that through political opportunism. It’s not so much a matter of whether an election can be held safely — if you can line up for a latte then you can line up to vote — but of whether British Columbians can be persuaded that a campaign won’t disrupt the government’s pandemic response.

They need to be convinced that an early vote is in their interest, not just the NDP’s.

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