Last night, BC’s NDP goverrnment won a historic majority, after calling a snap election in the midst of the pandemic. Their opponents, the BC Greens and BC Liberals (really the BC Conservatives but with a more palatable name in this progressive province), never stood a chance at gaining ground, for one reason: Dr. Bonnie Henry and the BC government’s internationally-lauded COVID-response plan.
The BC NDP and its leader, Premier John Horgan, might have been surprised to win 55 seats (50 is a majority), but it’s probable they weren’t. For all the flowery ‘hope and change’ promises that politicians make to voters, politics is really a game for cynics.
The BC NDP called the election early, in the middle of a pandemic, for two reasons: because they knew their COVID response was enough to win a majority, and they wanted that solid majority before the real economic impact of a year of emergency pandemic spending became obvious.
This spending was necessary. But it’s going to be an easy target for their political opponents, and might signal a recession. That could have threatened the coalition the provincial NDP built with the provincial Greens to form government over three years ago. So, as backroom political cynics touting ‘hope and change’ when the news mics were on, the NDP tore up their coalition with the Greens and went for unchecked power.
They got it. So now the provincial Greens can’t hold the government to account, which is not a good thing. It can be argued that the coalition government, where the Greens held the balance of power, was far more democratic than any elected majority. It promoted sober second thought and gave the party in power cynical reasons to act democratically.
To avoid losing the balance of power is, to a politician, far more important than breaking a promise to the voters.
Politically, the NDP probably deserved their majority. A similar scenario played out in New Zealand this fall – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern led a coalition government of several parties. She led the party that finished second in the popular vote in 2017, and has received international acclaim on several fronts since. She gave birth to a daughter her first year in office, she wore a headscarf to meet with mourners of the Christchurch mosque attack that killed 51 in 2019, but perhaps most importantly, New Zealand was the first country in the world to declare itself COVID-free, after instituting a national lockdown strategy early in the pandemic. New Zealand has live sports attended by thousbands in the stands again; that’s how far ahead they are. In mid-October, Ardern’s Labour Party won a landslide majority on the back of all this incredibly good COVID press.
So, if voters are clearly rewarding incumbents in the midst of a pandemic, does it matter that, say, the US reponse has been internationally repudiated? It probably doesn’t, nice as it would be to connect BC’s provincial election to New Zealand’s national election, and draw a line from both to the US election, for those hoping Trump’s dismal COVID response is enough to replace him with Biden. Keep in mind: People voting for Trump don’t think COVID is serious, and think the science is exaggerated or fake, because Trump advised them to believe this.
But there is an ounce of hope for voters to hang on to. COVID response could be the key issue for American centrists and swing voters, as it’s been in almost every political election so far held in the midst of this ongoing pandemic – there’s just no way to know, with certainty, that it will be enough to vacate the Gilded Trumps from their pedestals.