B.C. Premier John Horgan provides the latest update on the COVID-19 response in the province during a press conference from the rose garden at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

‘Opportunity’ for election in fall, next spring or summer, B.C. premier says

New Democrats have led a razor-thin minority government through an agreement with the Green party

B.C. Premier John Horgan isn’t ruling out a fall election despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Horgan told reporters Thursday that the government is mandated to hold an election in October next year, so, there’s “an opportunity” to do so this fall, next spring or next summer.

The New Democrats have led a razor-thin minority government through an agreement with the Green party since 2017.

The next provincial election is scheduled for Oct. 16, 2021, but it could take place earlier if the government decides to call a vote or loses the confidence of the legislative assembly.

Horgan’s comment was met by surprise and disappointment by interim Green leader Adam Olsen and Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson on Twitter.

They both pointed to the co-operation of all elected parties in the face of the pandemic and the interest of British Columbians in feeling safe rather than focus on politics.

“British Columbians would rightfully be outraged to have an unnecessary election forced on them in the midst of a pandemic,” Olsen said in a tweet.

Residents of the province want their government to be working collaboratively on fighting the pandemic and rebuilding the economy, he said.

“This cannot be put at risk for political games.”

Wilkinson said an election isn’t what people need right now, they need to know they’re safe and can take care of their families.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said her office has been working with the chief electoral officer since the early days of the pandemic to develop a plan.

She recommended that two byelections in March be rescheduled given the uncertainty but said health officials have been preparing for possible elections since then.

“We know we have a minority government both here in B.C. and federally as well as a number of byelections and other municipal elections that are scheduled in the coming months,” Henry said Thursday during her COVID-19 briefing.

“So yes, we are working with them so that we are prepared as a province for whatever comes up, whether it be the fall, next spring, next year, and that elections can happen safely.”

Elections BC says on its website that the pandemic makes it very likely that the next election will be held under some level of public health restrictions. As a result, it’s working with stakeholders to ensure it’s safe and accessible, so voters don’t have to choose between exercising their right to vote and safeguarding their health.

Some of the steps planned include increased advanced voting opportunities to reduce crowding, increasing the use of remote voting options like vote-by-mail and telephone voting for people at risk and hygiene measures at in-person voting stations.

“It is unlikely the next provincial election will be postponed because of the pandemic, but it is possible depending on the level of public health risk at the time,” Elections BC says.

Cancelled civic elections are in the process of being rescheduled, it says.

Horgan said the province has been ”a day away” from an election since the New Democrats took power.

“We have a very, very precarious balance here in B.C. and I’ve said that between now and next fall we need to have an election, it’s mandated by next October. So there’s an opportunity this fall, there’s an opportunity next spring, there’s an opportunity next summer,” he said.

In the meantime, cabinet is focused on determining how best to spend stimulus dollars to keep the economy going and to make sure people have the services they need, the premier said.

“That’s my number 1 preoccupation whether we’re in a pandemic or not.”

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

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