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COMMENTARY: In B.C., John Horgan’s risky election call is being put to the test

Click to play video 'Decision BC: Horgan talks post-secondary education, Wilkinson campaigns on public safety' Decision BC: Horgan talks post-secondary education, Wilkinson campaigns on public safety
WATCH: On the campaign trail Thursday, Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson says his party would work to restrict camping in Vancouver's city parks and aggressive panhandling if elected. And NDP John Horgan says his party will make life more affordable for students if elected. – Oct 1, 2020

The third week of British Columbia’s unnecessary election campaign has begun and John Horgan is still taking heat for calling it in the first place.

Horgan, Canada’s only NDP premier, had a governing agreement with the third-place Green Party that vaulted him into power in B.C.’s minority parliament in 2017.

The deal with the Greens — which deposed the Liberals after 16 years in power — stipulated that Horgan would not call another election before October 2021.

But Horgan triggered the snap election one year early, no doubt enticed by opinion polls showing him with a big lead.

That lead appears to be holding up for the NDP. Halfway through the campaign, Horgan seems to be cruising for a majority-government victory.

But British Columbia is a funny place for politics. The pollsters have been spectacularly wrong in the past. And the only thing you can ever expect in a B.C. election campaign is for the unexpected to occur.

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Read more: B.C. party leaders trade seniors’ home care promises on campaign trail Sunday

Now comes word that Horgan’s snap election call has frozen millions of dollars in emergency relief funds that had been scheduled to flow to small businesses struggling during the pandemic.

The funds were held up after Horgan triggered the early election call last month, and it sparked withering new criticism of Horgan for putting his own political interests ahead of economic victims of the pandemic.

“Unconscionable,” fumed B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau, who is still furious after Horgan reneged on their no-election deal.

As Furstenau and Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson both ripped Horgan — again — for the early election call, Horgan was busy promising rebate cheques for three million B.C. drivers.

British Columbia has public auto insurance administered by the government-owned Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC).

The New Democrats said ICBC has saved millions of dollars during the pandemic because having fewer drivers on the road have caused fewer costly accidents.

Now the NDP says the Crown corporation will cut rebate cheques to drivers after the election.

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But there are just a few problems with that. The opposition Liberals, fighting fiercely to re-take power in the province, had been calling on the government to issue driver rebate cheques for months and the government did nothing.

The Liberals also appear poised to promise increased competition in auto insurance, possibly breaking up ICBC’s monopoly.

That could be an enticing promise for weary B.C. drivers who have seen big hikes in auto-insurance rates while ICBC bled billions of dollars in financial losses.

And that’s where that made-in-B.C. political “X factor” comes into play.

Horgan’s New Democrats may hold a commanding lead in the polls — a strong 10-point edge over the Liberals in one recent survey — but the horserace always seems to tighten up in the home stretch of any B.C. election.

In addition to a possible vote-driving promise to reform auto insurance, the Liberals this week also promised a local referendum in the battleground city of Surrey.

The city has been divided over a plan by the local mayor and council to get rid of the RCMP detachment and replace it with a municipal police force.

The plan has been approved by the provincial NDP government. But now many residents are campaigning to keep the Mounties after reports said the new local force would cost more money but have fewer cops than the city has now.

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Read more: BC Liberals promise Surrey RCMP referendum, NDP pledge ICBC rebate, Greens pitch renters’ grant

By seizing on the issue, the Liberals could tilt the outcomes is a handful of tightly-contested ridings, which could be critical in a close election.

All three major party leaders, meanwhile, are preparing for next week’s televised debate. With traditional in-person campaigning on hold during the pandemic, the debate could be a crucial moment.

Furstenau, the Green Party leader, will be one to watch closely. Still boiling over the snap-election double-cross, she could turn on Horgan and inflict some serious damage to his credibility and trustworthiness.

And Wilkinson, the Liberal leader, could produce a debate surprise, too. Wilkinson bested Horgan in a 2018 debate on electoral reform. He could beat the NDP premier again.

Canadian political watchers are closely following this election, wondering if Horgan can parlay his risky broken-promise election call into a brilliant capture of majority power.

Halfway to finish line, Horgan seems in good shape to win his bet. But this is British Columbia, where anything can happen, and usually does.

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​.

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