A government in pandemic is supposed to be about healing, not opening wounds – a collective aim to flatten the curve, to lessen the divide.
Leadership ministers to differences, fosters collective will, and is rewarded not at the first opening to seize opportunity but when its task is completed.
This is not the British Columbia we occupy today as an election beckons.
On the day British Columbia had the country’s highest per capita cases of COVID-19, John Horgan launched a campaign, sending people into polling booths when they would be in less risk at home and when our politicians would be in greater service at work.
Horgan has given elected officials a three-month break from the legislature and their constituency work – probably longer, perhaps with a short spurt before the holiday break – at a crucial stage of economic stewardship. This is abdication, plain and simple.
No matter the health and economic crisis, there is, no matter what Horgan contends, no crisis in British Columbian political collaboration. The minority government, to some surprise, has never been jeopardized, and the across-the-aisle non-partisanship during the pandemic has been a model of service. This is how our leaders ought to operate when there is a public challenge to well-being.
Any justification to pull the plug on a perfectly acceptable arrangement ought to carry with it moral and operational imperatives. Horgan offers none.
That he claims he has wrestled with the decision to stage a vote contradicts his initial campaign statements, even his government’s assertions last week. There was no trace of ambivalence in his assertions Monday, no sense of any hesitation or qualm that this might not be an optimal time for an election – except in the craven opportunistic sense, which he confirmed by saying, after all, “we are in politics.”
Were this a tidy launch, there might deserve to be some forgiveness of the conceit. But the NDP has made clumsy errors in the days preceding its hasty campaign liftoff.
First, it released an economic recovery plan that did not require any new mandate to implement. The funds are available to government today, tomorrow and when they will be delivered. There is no need for British Columbians to provide a new tenure, any more than there would be each year for a provincial budget.
Second, it asserted that the legislature was a House of Gridlock. This is ridiculous. Two bills are in limbo – one on detention of youth because his minister is reviewing it following criticism from independent experts, one on electricity purchases from the United States because the former Green leader thought it incongruent.
Both bills seem to run afoul of First Nations and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Horgan was the first leader to embrace and embed UNDRIP as a lens on legislation and operation.
Which brings us to the most striking example of the campaign’s expediency.
Horgan’s NDP says any retiring white male MLA should be replaced as a candidate by an “equity-seeking” candidate. Enter Indigenous leader Annita McPhee of the Tahltan, who learns the nomination is available only through the media, steps up for the Stikine riding, but learns that former MP Nathan Cullen has already staked his claim. Her paperwork is declared out of order, there is no nomination contest, Cullen is the choice.
How well Andrew Wilkinson’s Liberals particularly, and Sonia Fursteneau’s Greens more marginally, capitalize on this hurried, harried haste to the ballot box is an open question. The window for successfully flipping this campaign into a referendum on Horgan’s overconfidence is a small one, but it ought to be the mission, because there is no doubt Horgan is not held in higher regard today than he was last week.
He has gone from an exemplar on how politics can be done to an exemplar on how politics has been done. The Respected Everyman has become That Typical Politician.
Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.