Jordan Heath-Rawlings: I’m not sure if you’re aware of it or not, but there’s an election going on in the middle of a pandemic.
President Donald Trump: The radical left.
Joe Biden: Will you shut up, man.
President Donald Trump, Joe Biden and Chris Wallace: Listen, who is on your list, Joe? This is on so right. Gentlemen. No, we have ended this segment.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: No, not that one. Thank God.
There’s actually an election in British Columbia in the middle of the pandemic. It’s the first major election in a COVID-19 hotspot in Canada since the pandemic began. It might turn out to be a blowout, it might not. But whatever happens in BC over the next month, we’re about to learn some valuable lessons.
Will Canadians vote by mail in massive numbers in order to stay safe? If they do that, can our election infrastructure and Canada Post handle that? Will voters make the BC NDP pay for calling an early election in the middle of all this? What does campaigning look like from at least six feet away? What will your local polling station look like?
And how can the province keep everybody safe while making sure that everyone also has an easy opportunity to cast their ballot? Oh, and lastly, if this works and the BC NDP get their majority, will this become a blue print for other provinces that have parties riding high in the polls? Could this pandemic become a power grab?
I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. This is The Big Story. Liza Yuzda is the legislative reporter in BC for News 1130 and for CityNews. Hello, Liza.
Liza Yuzda: Hello. How are you?
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: I’m doing as well as can be expected. Thank you for asking. Can you, why don’t you start by telling us how you are.
Liza Yuzda: Well, I, I think I’m pandemic-ly OK. It’s just, it’s so much, isn’t it? I mean, just removing from work. That this pandemic is kind of bananas and, doing the job that we do. It’s just, it’s like, you’re inundated with COVID and now we’re inundated with election. It’s just, it’s a lot, I’m looking forward to 2022.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Yeah. This is why we wanted to talk to you because it must be a lot out there right now. And you know, you’re in the middle of an election and maybe for those of us who don’t live in BC or who haven’t been following it so closely, could you give us a brief overview of, you know, what the political landscape has been like before this election, you know, how long was left in the mandate, and whose mandate, all that stuff.
Liza Yuzda: Well, I think it depends on who you ask about how stable it was. But the situation was that we had a government, a minority government that was supported by an NDP minority government that was supported by an agreement that they had with the BC Green Party. It’s called CASA, the confidence and supply agreement, which meant that they were going to the NDP would keep their mandate going unless, and would not call an election unless they lost a confidence vote in the house. Didn’t appear to anyone that that was going to happen. And the BC Green leader, who is now Sonia Furstenau, and that just happened a week before the election was called, but the BC Greens elected a new leader. She had said that, you know, we’ll support you we’ll support you until the end. The next election was supposed to happen a year from now in October 2021, it was a fixed date that was set by the NDP government. So by all accounts, we could have kept going with the government that we have until a year from now. What you heard and have heard from the NDP leader, Premier John Horgan, now NDP leader John Horgan, while the election goes on, a campaign goes on. He asserts that it was not as stable as it appeared, that although the Greens had said that they would not take him down on a confidence vote, there were a couple of pieces of legislation in the last session in August that did not pass. They pulled from the docket because the Greens were not going to support them. One was energy-based, a BC hydro bill or energy company here. And the other was a youth mental health, a piece of youth mental health legislation. So John Horgan saying, look, we’re in a pandemic this is a, you know, everybody’s on tenterhooks with everything right now. We don’t need to be waiting to see, is an election coming, is election coming and is election coming? And when criticized for reneging on this confidence and supply agreement with the Greens that an election would be not be called unless they lost a confidence vote, unless the NDP lost a confidence vote, he said, look, when we wrote that agreement there wasn’t a pandemic. That logic fails me a bit. I don’t really get how a pandemic comes into effect there, but, but that’s sort of the lay of the land. So to say that the BC Greens are unhappy is an understatement. The newly elected leader, Sonia Furstenau came out, you know, spitting mad, saying this is unnecessary. It is irresponsible and, and has, you know, minced no words and pulled no punches on how she feels about this election. And you know, this election will be a big challenge at best for that party.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: So the NDP’s reasoning is that they wanted to essentially get the election over with in order to get on with the act of governing, which they say was, was difficult. What do skeptical people say is actually behind the decision?
Liza Yuzda: A pure, simple power grab. They are very high on the polls. Premier John Horgan, you know, has been pulling as one of the most popular leaders across Canada, and hearing in the backrooms, political organizers were saying, come on, like, this is the time to move. It’s not going to get better than this. You know, our provisional health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, who has been leading the charge in combating COVID-19, you know, has been very popular, challenged a little bit now with school coming in, but, but incredibly popular. So, you know, as the government, they get to ride the wave of, even though that’s an independent body, they get to ride that wave of popularity of having a strong response. So the cynics say, you know, it’s pure and simple power grab, and you know that this is politics and this is what politicians do. And also, you know, our former premier Christy Clark, who did lose her job in a confidence vote, you know, a lot of the criticism flung at her was that she was, you know, for lack of a better term, power hungry and would, you know, keep going for the power. And this does not seem that different to a lot of people.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: So who will be, as this campaign gets going then, the main opposition to John Horgan? Is it the Greens? You mentioned that they’re in tough right now. Is it, is it someone else? Where’s the challenge coming from?
Liza Yuzda: Oh, heck no, it is not the Greens much to their chagrin.
It is the BC Liberals. The BC Liberals have a lot of challenges. One could say that they are going through a reorganization. They are getting out the old guard. That’s the, the guard under former premier Christy Clark and people who had been there long before her, and bringing in a new guard. And so the leader is Andrew Wilkinson. He is not very well known by people, so that makes it very challenging. And I think even more challenging in a pandemic. But I don’t know if that would make a huge difference. So he’s not well known by people. I think he’s kind of entertaining, but he has a reputation for being, you know, he’s very bright. And so I think people think that he comes off as elitist. You know, he’s a doctor and you know, trained as a doctor and was licensed as a doctor. And so I think, you know, he works against being elitist. There is one gaff over the last year pre-pandemic. I’m trying to remember exactly when, when he talked about renters, about people might not be able to afford to live. And he’s like, Oh, and he used the word wacky. And so it just seemed like it was making light of it. He held a press conference about housing and affordability at a sort of lux, high-end yacht club. So, you know, he’s done a few things like that that have painted him poorly with a lot of people. And this pandemic though, kudos to him and to the other parties, like during the pandemic, they really, they shut up, they backed up what was going on and they did not make waves. They let the pandemic response happen, which I think there’s kudos across the board. And that makes it challenging also in a pandemic as well. Cause you can’t, you know, you don’t want to undermine the health response. And so it’s a hard, it’s a difficult dance. It’s a difficult dance, but the biggest challenge for the Liberals is that they’re not known. They always have candidates. Like there’s, there’s one candidate in particular, Laurie Throness, an MLA, who’s known for being exceptionally right wing, anti-LGBTQ, a little bit misogynist, like just, you know, anti-abortion. And, and he gets a lot of flack and, you know, Andrew Wilkinson has said, you know, under our umbrella, you know, we won’t stand for that, but they just had another candidate who came out and said, and had to, didn’t exactly apologize said regretted what he said and knows that it’s wrong. It was essentially saying that people who are addicted are making criminal choices, who are addicted to drugs, who suffer from addiction are making criminal choices and then likened it somehow to the choices pedophiles make and, Holy bananas. So, you know, they’re, they’ve got a long battle and again, like Horgan’s popular, the NDP are popular.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: So that’s the lay of the land, I guess, in terms of how the actual poles shape up. But we’re talking to you because we want to know what it’s like to do an election in the middle of a pandemic. Why don’t you start? Why don’t you start because you mentioned her before. What does public health say about it? What does Dr. Henry say about the safety of calling an election?
Liza Yuzda: She says absolutely. You know, there was supposed to be a by-election in BC and some municipal by-elections way back in March, like right when the heat of the pandemic was starting. So it was very present while the rest of us were just grappling with this idea that Holy Hannah we’re in a pandemic. Public health was looking at, you know, can we hold an election in BC? They were looking at, can we hold these elections or can we not? They ultimately decided to put them off, but they looked at how things could be held safely. So this work has been done for six months. It really ratcheted up as the rhetoric over, is this coming, ratcheted up probably over the last month before it was called end of August, September. So the work has been done and they’re doing some really interesting things to make sure that it’s safe, but the government very clear, and then Premier Horgan now NDP leader, John Horgan, think very clearly that this would not be called if there were any concerns about public health. And also knowing that the pandemic, not going anywhere, it’s still going to be here a year from now. And so this is what he also, Premier John Horgan using to support his, his call when he made the call that the pandemics going to be here, an election is going to come, we’re going to be in the same position, whether now or a year from now. So, and also holding up New Brunswick that they did it safely there. So there have been a lot elections. BC has done a lot to make it safe if they put in a lot of, I don’t know, new measures necessarily, but expanding on existing measures to make sure people have every option possible to cast their ballot safely.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: So how different has this campaign been so far compared to ones you’ve covered in the past? Can you just give me some examples of like, day to day things that are different?
Liza Yuzda: There is one really clear one right off the bat. You know, usually when campaigns are announced and they’re announcing their candidates, like the nominations are not done, those, those finish, you know, they finish on October 2nd. So when this was happening, the nominations were not done, but you know, they put up their star candidates and normally it’s like a throng of reporters, a throng of supporters in the background or the candidate standing there and everybody cheering. One of the clearest ones that I think really stood out as being a very successful way of doing this in a COVID world was the BC Liberals. They had their leader, Andrew Wilkinson, on Zoom. Also, it was covered on TV, but you know, so he was on there and he said, you know, this is what we’re doing, this is how we’re starting. And he said, and here’s our candidates. And then they cut to Zoom live on Zoom. And they went to, I don’t know, 10 different candidates in their living rooms, in their offices, in their kitchens saying, hi I’m so and so I’m running again. It was very smooth. I thought it was very slick in a COVID kind of way cause you’re seeing, you know, people’s cupboards in the background and I thought it was great. We’re also seeing, you know, pictures of the candidates and leaders out in ridings, talking to people as they did before, but now they have masks on and they’re standing seven feet from people and they’re outside, not inside. You’re seeing still like campaign events from the leaders, but again, outside at a distance, most of the reporters are on the phone. They are making, you know, we can phone in and that’s always available or on Facebook. So I think the campaigning is being done. But again, I don’t, I don’t know how much of a race there is ultimately here. I mean, we’ll see, but the popularity and how the polls are showing it, it’s, it’s not a huge race, but yeah, I think voices are certainly getting out there in a COVID pandemic way.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Do we know what the public in BC thinks about, not necessarily who they want to win, but, but what they think about being asked to, to vote in the middle of a pandemic? Like, are they happy this election is here? Are they mad?
Liza Yuzda: I don’t know, like I, perfectly honest when they called it, I sat and cried cause I was like, Oh my Lord, one more thing on the pile. But I think people are, you know, for those who aren’t living this day in day out, who are not obsessed with it, like schools are in right now and cases are up, so people are worried. How are my children doing in school? People are worried about, you know, am I getting to work? Okay, people are worried about the cases in their community. I think there’s this, you know, people are, have it on their radar. I don’t know that it’s that different. One of the fascinating things that’s happened is what’s happened mail-in ballots. So when you’re looking at how people are feeling, they’re certainly getting their butts in gear. When they did the elections, BC did this whole technical briefing for us and for the province, talking about what they’re going to do to make voting accessible. And I think maybe that put people at ease and made them less frustrated with there being an election right now. So one of the things is mail-in ballots. Last election in 2017, there were 6,500 mail-in ballots in British Columbia. So far weeks from the election, 431,000 people have requested mail-in ballots. It may even be higher than that. Now that was the number as of a couple of days ago, but that’s madness. And they’re expecting at least 850,000, so that many people that quickly, within a few days of an election being called, you know, getting in gear to say, hey, yes, I want to vote. I want my election this way. I’m choosing how to do it. Seems to me that people, you know, although there may have been some frustration and certainly from people who are supporting not the NDP, because they, you know, as I said, the Greens just elected a new leader. The BC Liberals reorganizing under their leader, trying to, you know, shift candidates or, you know, get new candidates in there where they know MLAs aren’t running again. You know, they, they have a big challenge. So there’s people who are supporting those parties who are feeling, you know, behind the eight ball. But I think that that is sort of peter away very quickly in my estimation, from what I’m hearing, that people are rolling with it.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Aside from the mail-in ballots, what else is going to be different about how people vote? I assume there won’t be packed polling places anymore. For instance, do they have more of them spaced out? What else is going on?
Liza Yuzda: They are doing seven days advanced pooling instead of the usual six. The election day this year, like these people can still go and vote it’s on a Saturday, which makes it far more accessible for far more people. Of course it will be distanced. Most places in BC will be fortunate that our weather is pretty moderate even if it’s lousy weather at the end of October. They’re doing things like, in longterm care homes, they will be sending campaign officials in there so people can vote, can cast their ballots without having to leave. And we know that longterm care homes are one place that we’re wanting to keep very careful, you know, carefully protected. They are extending and making more accessible voting by phone. They are doing, you can drop off your ballot curbside. They’re, you know, they are sort of extending every little accessibility so that people can cast their ballots. You know, so the curbside one is for people who may be physically challenged to have it, or, or even, you know, health challenged who don’t want to go inside, they will be able to arrange that they can drive up and hand their ballot off to someone or dealing with a voting official there. And of course the entire month prior to the election, people can go to any elections BC office and cast their ballot. You have to kind of work hard not to vote. I mean, you still have to make the effort to get your ballot in one shape or another, but it’s pretty accessible. And you have like for getting your mail-in ballots, you know, they, they were, I was talking to the communications guy from elections BC, and he said, you know, Canada Post of course is Canada Post. But if people request the ballot by a week before, they can expect to get it. They will have to drop it off. And if you have it and you want to mail it back in, if you get it in by a week before, it will be there with elections BC. So there’s a lot of options. And you know, that has not received that I’ve heard a stitch of criticism from anyone saying, Oh, there’s not enough or, Oh, this is too hard. Well, that’s not true. There’s Twitter people who complain, but they’re going to complain about everything. So I just think so they have made it very easy and very accessible.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: That’s a relief to hear, especially given what we’re hearing from the United States, as they prep for their election and everything going on with main-in ballots down there. So I’m glad to hear that. So you mentioned that the NDP has a huge lead. First of all, I guess, how big is that lead and, and if, and I know this might be super unlikely, if something was going to change it, if they were going to be vulnerable on something, what is it?
Liza Yuzda: Popularity first. If you look trust pollings, which not everyone does, but we still look to them as much as we think they’re lousy. But the aggregate of all the polls are showing that the NDP could win 55 seats. We only have 87 here. So that would be a resounding majority. People who are going to vote for the NDP are at around 51% compared to 30 odd for the BC Liberals. The leader for the NDP is, I don’t know, in the high 50, 60, 70s, whereas the popularity of the leader for the BC Liberals is in the teens. So there’s a distinct difference between the two and the Greens, I think may just, if the NDP do as well as they’re expected to do, the Greens may just be obliterated. This election, John Horgan prior to becoming premier, and he seems to have mellowed, but I’ve seen the former John Horgan a little bit more. He was known for being fiery, flying off the cuff, losing his temper, being like ornery and rash in responses and have seen that sort of more fired up edgy, acerbate kind of John Horgan in this election. Because he’s known as sort of a likeable guy, like he talks it’s about like, I don’t know if you heard try to get Ryan Reynolds to do a message about the election. Like, dude, that’s not cool. He talks about like, hey Betty, the drug dealer from Souk who, when he was younger that he went to. I don’t know if there’s a Betty and Souk, there may be, she probably gets a lot of calls if there is, but you know, like sort of this affable kind of quality, but you’ve seen sort of more edginess come out. So I would think that it would come down to some sort of gaff of that sort. And that’s why I’m curious to see, you know, we’re all clamouring to get, you know, there’s obviously the consortium debate that the leaders do, but others clamouring to get like a radio debate to get some other kinds of debates, to get all the leaders in front. And I don’t know how much they’re going to do because, you know, as the front runner, you sorta hold all the power. So I don’t know what’s in it for him to speak out more, but I’m guessing what’s in it for him is that we’re in a pandemic and people don’t get to hear your voice as easily as they could before, so more people get to hear your voice. So I don’t, gaffs seem to be the thing that I’m waiting for to see if that really changes the tenor of the campaigns.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: And that would really have to move the needle.
Liza Yuzda: A lot, a lot.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: So yeah, assuming that yeah, the needle doesn’t move though, and you know, this is, if it’s a power grab as people say, it becomes a successful power grab.
Is this something that might be a model for provinces across the country, because in many provinces that have dealt with COVID, the government is at a popularity high. And is this the, you know, the blueprint for getting an election in and capitalizing on that?
Liza Yuzda: Yeah. Cynically, I think you could say yes.
I mean, you know, although the pandemic is awful, yeah people who are handling it successfully, governments that are handling it successfully are, are being lauded for that. So, yeah. I don’t know. I think, I think the good news out of what’s happening here is that you see that it can be done safely. That’s I think the upside of it. The one interesting thing that I forgot to mention about mail-in ballots, it’ll be curious to see how people react to at the end of all this, is with the immense volume, like up to 800,000 expected. of these mail-in ballots, elections BC does their final count. They start at 13 days after the election because they verify all of these mail-in and absentee ballots. They’re able to count,I think their ability to verify about 200,000 a week. So if things are closed, like it’s conceivable that we could have to wait another week or two to find the final results. If it stays the way it is, I think likely it will be pretty obvious election night as it normally is who’s winning, but it’ll be curious to see how people react to that in Canada, where we are used to hearing the final results pronto night out. So if that changes, I’d be curious to see if that affects what decisions other leaders and other provinces make. But I think the way people have rolled with it so far, they would roll with that as well. And here in BC last election, you know, it was a nail biter. We had, I think we waited, I’m trying to remember again, but it was a couple of weeks that we waited to see what was going to happen. We had to wait for a couple, you know, recounts then, you know, the Liberal government went back in and then they lost the confidence vote, then we had to see. So like there was, you know, a couple of weeks of drama that time around. So I think we can handle it again.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: I hope you can. I hope everyone out there stays safe and you get a result on election night, but even, even if you don’t, I’ll be interested to see. Thanks, Liza.
Liza Yuzda: Thanks so much.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Liza Yuzda, legislative reporter for news 1130 in Vancouver. That was The Big Story.
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