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COMMENTARY: Dumb or brilliant? John Horgan takes a big gamble with B.C. election call

Click to play video 'Decision BC: Battleground Maple Ridge. Horgan faces more questions about timing of election' Decision BC: Battleground Maple Ridge. Horgan faces more questions about timing of election
WATCH: With both the NDP and BC Liberal leaders campaigning Thursday in the battleground of Maple Ridge, John Horgan once again faced questions about the timing of what critics call an 'unnecessary' election. Paul Johnson reports.

British Columbia once had a reputation for the wildest and wackiest politics in the country.

But things seemed to have settled down in recent years. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the province’s bare-knuckle political battles morphed into a campfire singalong.

All of a sudden, all three of B.C.’s major political parties — the NDP, Liberals and Greens — joined hands and started singing from the same songsheet.

John Horgan’s governing New Democrats had already been playing nice with the Greens. The two parties signed a power-sharing agreement in 2017, vaulting Horgan into the premier’s office.

The NDP-Green deal gave Horgan a chance to govern with a minority, sending the bitter Liberals into opposition after 16 years in power.

Read more: B.C. election 2020 promise tracker: What the major parties are pledging

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Horgan’s minority government has proven extremely durable, handily surviving every budget and confidence vote over the last three years.

The Liberals joined the love-in when the pandemic struck, supporting the NDP government’s COVID-19 relief plans, and barely raising a peep of protest as the province’s budget deficit spiralled out of control.

In something never seen or contemplated before, the New Democrats and Liberals even held virtual town-hall meetings together.

For two political parties that historically hate each other, it was like lions and hyenas suddenly getting along.

But now that’s a thing of the past, and the bad old days of down-and-dirty B.C. politics are back.

Why are all three political parties suddenly at each other’s throats again?

It’s because Horgan just called an election that he promised he wouldn’t call.

Under the NDP-Green governing agreement, Horgan promised not to call an election before the fall of 2021.

But Horgan could not resist triggering an early election — now set for Oct. 24 — as he watched the NDP’s lead in the opinion polls soar to historic new heights during the pandemic.

B.C. voters gave Horgan high marks for his handling of the crisis. And it appears British Columbians liked this new era of political co-operation and were rewarding Horgan for it.

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That’s all out the window with a snap election that reeks of an opportunistic power grab.

The Greens are furious. New leader Sonia Furstenau has been on the job less than two weeks and Horgan’s election call came as the Greens had exactly zero new candidates nominated.

Horgan made it worse by blaming the Greens for the early election, telling the public that his governing partners had become uncooperative, forcing him to seek a new mandate.

“It’s simply not true,” Furstenau told me, releasing the text of a letter she sent to Horgan guaranteeing continuing support of his minority government.

The Liberals, meanwhile, are also fit to be tied, especially when it was revealed that the NDP had been ramping up partisan social-media advertising in the days leading up to Horgan’s election call.

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It’s a risky move for Horgan, but one that appears to be working so far. Early opinion polls show the New Democrats still holding a healthy lead over the second-place Liberals.

But I’d say there’s still plenty of time for this thing to backfire on the NDP.

For one thing, trying to blame the Green Party for a snap election call that’s clearly a partisan sneak attack is a bad look for Horgan.

Furstenau, the Green leader, is not letting him get away with it and she could prove a problem for him in a televised leaders debate.

Read more: B.C. election 2020: Find your riding and candidates

The Liberals, meanwhile, promised this week to eliminate the province’s seven per cent provincial sales tax during the first year of a COVID-19 recovery plan.

Horgan immediately cried foul, warning voters that scrapping the PST would blow a $7-billion hole in the provincial budget and force large spending cuts on health care and other vital government services.

The Liberal leader, Andrew Wilkinson, denied that any spending cuts would be inflicted. He insisted a Liberal government would simply live with massive budget deficits while using the tax cut to stimulate the recovering economy.

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It’s still too early to tell if the Liberals’ promised tax cut will turn the tables in an election the New Democrats were favoured to win.

But one thing is for sure: British Columbia’s experiment with feel-good, co-operative politics is over. This pandemic election will be now be fought the old-fashioned way — in nasty, negative, traditional B.C. style.

If Horgan ends with the majority mandate he craves, his snap election could prove to be the stuff of political genius.

If it backfires and he loses, squandering a massive lead in the polls, it will go down as one of B.C.’s biggest-ever political blunders.

Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at mike@cknw.com and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews​.