Why BC NDP will be weighing odds of winning a snap spring election

Midway in a mandate is when a government’s impact is finally felt and its direction usually made clear.

But what I wonder is whether the BC NDP will distract us from the impact with a fresh batch of new directions – not as legislation or regulation or immediate policy, but as campaign promises in a snap election.

The most difficult economic days for British Columbia are on the horizon, likely at the end of 2019 or early 2020.

But, just as Donald Trump benefited from the work of Barack Obama until he messed around too much with the stability, so the NDP has benefited from the stewardship of the BC Liberals and has tinkered with a successful tax dynamic. Unlike Trump, who is at least consistent, it didn’t campaign on the measures it has imposed.

Its fiddling with the economy – on taxing real estate and payrolls, on perpetuating pipeline opposition – has cemented measures that will only feel more onerous, and provide far less wiggle room on the balance sheet, when times are tougher. Any tax relief it has provided has been nominal, and when revenue tightens, it will have few available options to lessen the load – so significant are its longer-term commitments in housing and child care, among other big-ticket files.

Is it then the most optimal time this spring, in advance of a federal election in October, to try to claim a full majority mandate, ride out the expected storm and capitalize as we recover into 2023?

It is true, it need not do so.

Frankly, the party can seemingly careen and taunt as it wishes and not trigger Andrew Weaver beyond his constant huffing and puffing to ever bring the house down.

And, sure, the odds are long that the Nanaimo byelection will not go as planned and perpetuate NDP control, or that the legislative Speaker will not have found a method over the holidays to keep his gig by averting further self-harm – follies that would necessitate a new election.

But the temptation, despite the tenuous numeric hold, is there. The window is the most open it might be for some time for John Horgan’s team: a rebuilding and impoverished BC Liberal opposition, a subdued BC Green Party that poses no threat, some still-upbeat economic numbers, and perhaps as important, unity in the ranks.

And, joy of joys, it has first past the post.

A more cynical person would have suggested this was the electoral plan all along: a confusing, three-option referendum proposal that even its ministers couldn’t explain, a routine endorsement of proportional representation that was at once too partisan and insufficiently passionate, and just enough time to wake people up about the shabby process to mail in their distaste.

That might be giving the government too much credit. Arguably the most plausible explanation is that, handed its most significant opportunity to make its mark, the NDP stacked the deck as best it could to mystify the unsuspecting public and yet snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

It is difficult to see how the loss will have direct consequence. The campaign’s opponents are his political opponents and will stay so; his allies are hardly going to switch teams to be with those it opposed on the issue. But it was a statement on leadership and on the degree to which British Columbians were prepared to trust Horgan to deliver on the many details lacking as they deliberated in the referendum.

It takes a lot of time for a party without the recent history of leadership to earn the necessary equity and currency to advance a complex change like electoral reform. Justin Trudeau understood that and backed off the idea; Horgan couldn’t because he had to appease Weaver.

That all being said, the most challenging questions Horgan has to answer in any consideration of an election call are about himself. Has he dispelled the perception of tax-and-spend NDP governance? Has he retained his following in adopting or abandoning policies? Has he reached across sufficiently to earn an even larger support?

I think he would be hard-pressed to answer affirmatively. I’m just not sure it would stop him.

Kirk LaPointe is editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.