Eric Denhoff: It makes sense to hold an election; the state of the economy is a strong argument

Sometimes I just like to be contrarian, and I don’t profess to know much about politics, although I’ve had many political masters during my public service career and watched lots of politics from my private sector career.

But now in B.C., I’m intrigued because quite a few pundits, and all of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition representatives, say this would be a (1) lousy time (2) dangerous time or (3) politically opportunistic time to call an election, and we don’t need one until next fall.

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Maybe.

Maybe not.

A lousy time argument mostly revolves around the idea that British Columbians are busy dealing with the pandemic (and lately wildfire smoke!) and that they don’t want to be interrupted with a distracting election campaign.

Really? People are so excited about watching CBC and CNN night after night for hours describing society’s imminent demise that they don’t want the distraction of an election? OK, maybe. But this seems more reactive than pensive.

The Dangerous Time argument is, essentially, that it isn’t safe to vote now. Let’s test that. First, Elections B.C. has said publicly that they have made arrangements to have enough ballots for the 35 per cent of British Columbians who told them in a survey they wanted to vote by mail if there was an election during the pandemic.

In fact, Elections B.C. seemed to be ordering even more mail ballots than that. Between over a third being able to just mail it in, literally, and the judicious use of a lot of advance polling (New Brunswick’s advance polling numbers more than doubled during their election just finished this week), and proper polling station sanitation, this shouldn’t be an issue. Saskatchewan is also going to the polls, and voters in Surrey, where a Liberal MLA has resigned, will have to go to the polls by law by the end of February. They will all be done safely.

And there’s absolutely no guarantee next summer or fall will be any better in terms of COVID incidence, with some reports saying widespread vaccine availability could easily be late 2021, or even as late as 2024 according to one news report this week.

This could actually turn out to be one of the lowest incidence times, other than the late spring and summer, that we have in B.C. for a couple of years. Nobody knows, least of all the pundits like me!

Voting safely doesn’t have to entail any greater lineups or distancing than I saw with Canadian Tire, Home Depot or grocery store lines over the past few months. B.C. has relatively very low (although worrisome on the trend lines) rates of COVID-19, and on Vancouver Island, the Interior, North and Central Coastal areas, extremely low levels.

If you can go grocery shopping, to a restaurant, to a bar, or a lot of other activities, you can vote safely.

The third argument is sort of a combination of “it’s not scheduled to take place until next year, we don’t need one now, just let it be, and besides there’s a deal between the NDP and the Greens for no election until next year” is more intriguing.

Undoubtedly, one reason the NDP would be considering an election is that they are much, much higher in the polls. These numbers would drive any politician to the polls, just as they did for New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, who had just got his budget through minority government and could have gone for some time without a vote. But he saw the chance, and took it.

Political statements and agreements aren’t commercial contracts. Just as Christy Clark, who told the public after failing to get a majority or agreement with the Greens, that she wouldn’t ask the lieutenant-governor for another election, promptly went secretly into the L-G and asked her to force another election!! Ending the Confidence and Supply Agreement would expose the premier to attacks on the issue in the election. But that’s up to him; if he wants to take on that issue, let him do so.

This is what politics is about, achieving and maintaining power, in an ideal world, not for the purpose of having power for itself, but because you truly believe your party will do the best for the people you want to represent; you believe your ideology or platform or team is the best.

If Andrew Wilkinson was leading a minority government right now, was 20 points ahead in the polls and the most popular premier in Canada, my bet is he’d drop the writ too.

There have been more than a dozen snap elections since the 1900s in Canada. Famously, Jean Charest in Quebec called one in 2008 as a minority government to get a mandate for an economic plan in the financial crisis of the 2000s. He won. Jean Chrétien called the earliest election for a majority government since 1911 in 1997, with a year and a half to go in his mandate, longer than the time now for Premier John Horgan to his fixed election date.

Chrétien had a crisis, too, the Red River floods in Manitoba, and many of his MPs and some of the public opposed the election call. He won. Others have called snap elections and lost, Jim Prentice in Alberta and David Peterson in Ontario being two notable disasters.

What’s the compelling reason to have voters go now?

Really, in my mind, solely for the following reason: We are experiencing the greatest economic collapse in modern B.C. history. An economic event so dislocating that it has upended the economic and fiscal plans of every government in the world.

We are going to be in this muddle for years to come. This isn’t an event that will suddenly turn itself around in a few months or a year or two.

So, the NDP government needs to lay out clearly, its new economic and social plans, and then the Liberals and Greens (and sure, Conservatives too) must lay out in detail what their new economic and social recovery plans are, too,

The approach taken is going to matter to our everyday lives for years to come.

Does one party have an austerity plan, arguing to balance the budget as soon as possible, for example, which could impact current pandemic programs? Does one party propose high deficits to manage the pandemic, spending more on assistance to those hit by the recession? Does one party say, “We should increase taxes to fight climate change?” Or to pay for the deficit? Would the Liberals continue the ambitious NDP health care spending? Would the NDP be able to encourage private investment in B.C., on the scale of the LNG projects or big pre-pandemic tech job wins?

Would the Liberals cut corporate taxes, as Premier Jason Kenney did in Alberta to the tune of $4.5 billion? Would the NDP raise them?

I expect all the parties’ plans will be different enough that one can make a reasonable argument that the entire future of British Columbia depends on the implementation of one of these plans to guide us out of this horrific mess.

And that, it can be argued, is exactly why you go to the polls.

I’m not saying who you should vote for, by any means. I don’t belong to any of the parties. I’m just saying, hey, there are, in fact, legitimate reasons to go to the polls now too.

We’ll find out pretty soon either way!

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