Victorious BC NDP faces uncertain political, economic landscape over next four years

Thanks to those mailed-in ballots, we will know who are the members of the next U.S. Congress before we know who are the members of the next B.C. Legislative Assembly.

But at least we know who is the premier within our borders before we know who will be the president below the border.

Dr. Bonnie Henry led the province to flatten the pandemic’s curve, which created a nice poll trajectory for John Horgan. He made no other case for this election but his reelection, but there is good reason why the word “opportunist” often comes to mind when describing a politician.

Horgan knew the economy might be way worse this time next year, when his minority governing covenant with the Greens expires. Today’s tendency to blame troubles on the pandemic might next year be a tendency to blame troubles on the government, so he chose to break the pact and launch his latest public offering when the market appeared most willing to pay for it.

The bet was publicly derided but privately admired for its political savvy. It proved safe. The NDP will have more seats than ever in the 87-seat legislature.

Horgan would keep a straight face when he said the province needed political stability, even if there were no signs of unsettledness in the cross-party cooperation in COVID-19. For his poker face, though, he gets dealt a very uncertain hand in the next four years.

The NDP has in recent months figured out how to spend and salve some wounds in the pandemic. Soon it will need to determine how to pay – or how we will. Some of its most ambitious ideas – for child care, for social and below-market housing, for climate change, for transit – have their largest commitments due in the next term. Sooner or later, too, the cryptic financial strait of the Site C hydroelectric project will be clarified.

And, of course, there is the cost of the pandemic on livelihoods and on businesses, along with the challenge of how to reignite what was the country’s leading economy – unchartered territory for the NDP. The campaign gave us no clues on how Horgan will approach the larger questions. He has some figuring to do.

There is no doubt all of this will reach deeper into our pockets. None. It’s only a question of whose, how soon, how often, and how deeply.

We can conveniently forget that the 2017 election was actually won by the BC Liberals. The mailed-in ballot counts in one riding kept them from a majority and set into motion the negotiation that cemented – or Scotch-taped, anyway – the BC-Green deal.

So if the 1a) story Saturday was the rise of the NDP, 1b) was the collapse of the Liberals, their worst showing since they were coalesced by Gordon Campbell two decades ago. Andrew Wilkinson delivered a muted, barely audible speech late Saturday that conceded an NDP government but little else. He encouraged British Columbians to respect all voters and await the final results some two-plus weeks away, once the half-million mailed-in ballots are tallied.

But it is unlikely Wilkinson will have long to address his own political future. Already there are campaigns under way to succeed him, although one possible successor, Jas Johal, appears by the preliminary count to have lost his seat in Richmond-Queensborough. If Wilkinson chooses to stay, he will first have to persuade his party, and that is not a camp in a good mood.

The nightmare scenario for the Liberals was a much smaller caucus tilted heavily into the conservative camp, a result that might have shattered the coalition of centrist and right-of-centre cohorts. Now it will survive to fight another day, as mainly a rural party. But it’s hard to fathom it will fight under the same leader.

Well down from the 1a) and 1b) stories was the sleeper story Saturday of the Green Party. With Andrew Weaver’s departure as leader, but his endorsement of Horgan, there was every possibility the party would recede. But the Greens traded Weaver’s lost seat in Oak Bay for one in West Vancouver to keep three. Few saw that coming months ago.

New leader Sonia Furstenau made nothing but positive campaign impressions – the election timing was miserable for the Greens, just weeks after her ascension – and her opportunity in these next years is to further define the economic vision for the Greens. She backed Horgan down in a campaign he wanted to use to vaporize the Greens, and she has the chance to make him miserable for four years. For the time being, until the Liberals regroup, she is the de facto opposition leader.

Horgan got the benefit of a crisis in reelection. His challenge now is not to create one.

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