With close to a third of ballots still waiting to be counted, it’s hard to fully analyze B.C.’s 2020 election just yet. But there’s enough information in the 1.2 million votes that have been counted to be grateful for a few things.
Contrasting our election to the U.S. election campaign this past month, British Columbians live in a remarkably civil society. This is worth fighting for and defending against efforts to degrade it 100 per cent of the time. In this election, British Columbians did just that.
Misogyny, transphobia and homophobia were given a strong rebuke in ridings where this was the voting issue. This included North Vancouver-Seymour, where three-term MLA and former North Vancouver school trustee Jane Thornthwaite lost by a wide margin to a first-time NDP challenger, registered nurse Susie Chant.
There is probably no one in British Columbia who doesn’t know that Thornthwaite was recorded in a BC Liberal online roast for former North Shore MLA Ralph Sultan using degrading language to describe fellow NDP MLA Bowinn Ma. Before losing the seat by a wide margin Saturday night, North Vancouver-Seymour had voted solidly centre right since before you could buy a fax machine. In case you’re wondering, Ma was re-elected and had one of the largest NDP riding gains in the province.
Another battleground where civil society was on the ballot was Chilliwack-Kent, which, prior to the election, was held by MLA Laurie Throness, who subscribes to transphobic and homophobic views such as a belief in conversion therapy. On election night, ballots counted showed him losing by a slim margin. It may yet flip on mail-in ballots, but Throness was an incumbent with 53 per cent in the last election and the riding has never before gone NDP. It shouldn’t even be close.
Poor-bashing and stigmatizing were also shown the door by voters in several urban battlegrounds. High-profile candidates like former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan and former two-term Vancouver councillor George Affleck — both from the Non-Partisan Association, a right-wing civic party — relentlessly attacked the poor and drug users. Their election results were well below expectations. Hopefully, this puts an end to the tactic by both these serial politicians and others who might have thought grandstanding on misfortune helps at the ballot box.
This was also the first election in B.C.’s modern history that was contested without corporate or union donations and with strict limits on individual donations. Spending caps were also lower. Campaign finance reform is the kind of policy that is successful precisely because you don’t notice it. It can’t make a society more civil, but good campaign finance policy can ensure that elections are fairer and thus better reflect our aspirations, which is a great way to maintain a civil society.
While we wait for the mail-in and absentee ballots to be counted, a word to the new NDP majority government from my own experience in a three-term government: winning a strong majority can be the worst thing to happen to a party. This is especially true in two circumstances, both of which exist in this case.
First, though, let me be clear that the NDP candidates and campaign teams worked very hard to secure the votes they received, and they deserve credit for that work. At the same time, there is no question that their main opponent — the BC Liberals — ran a terrible campaign. It reminded me a lot of the epically bad NPA loss in the 2011 civic election when the opposing Vision Vancouver party swept every seat it contested. It is always a mistake to view this kind of crushing win as an untempered mandate to govern.
The other problem lies in assuming that voters support all your policies. I co-chaired Environment Minister George Heyman’s re-election bid, and I am also a staunch opponent of the NDP’s policies on LNG and Site C and a critic of their lack of significant action on drug and education policy reform. I don’t see a contradiction in my support but, rather, logic that if I support the majority of their policies and also want to change their minds on the ones I don’t support, I’m better off doing it on the team than shouting from the sidelines, at least for now. And that’s the rub.
A government should never assume the votes sent its way imply full endorsement of its platform. You should always govern as though you are on a knife’s edge. Premier John Horgan has made encouraging comments in this regard since Saturday night’s big win. If his caucus members follow his lead and demonstrate that ethos in their work over the next four years, most British Columbians won’t regret their vote this past month.