By Moira Warburton
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - British Columbia will hold an election on Oct. 24, its premier said on Monday, making it the largest province in Canada so far to hold a vote during the coronavirus pandemic.
Premier John Horgan of the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) said he wanted to ensure "stability" for the province as it responds to challenges presented by the pandemic.
"This pandemic will be with us for a long time and that's why we need an election now. ... I can't imagine 12 more months of bickering, 12 more months of not knowing whether a bill is going to pass the legislature," Horgan told reporters in Langford, B.C., a suburb of the provincial capital, Victoria
Horgan currently has a 69% approval rating, the highest of any premier in Canada, according to a survey published by Canadian pollster Angus Reid in late August.
Canada's westernmost province has been governed since 2017 by the NDP, which leads a minority government in the province's legislature with the support of the provincial Green Party.
Horgan's call for stability is "code for wanting four years of majority government," said Max Cameron, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He added that the lack of real issues other than the election being a referendum on the government's handling of the pandemic compounded that impression.
Sonia Furstenau, leader of the B.C. Green Party, said on Twitter on Monday that she met with the premier on Friday, and "told him he had a stable government. This election is completely unnecessary. The NDP has chosen the pursuit of power over the health and safety of British Columbians."
Horgan cited the lack of support from the Green Party on two bills over the summer, as well as a high number of provincial legislators from all parties planning to retire from politics, as reasons to call an election.
He added that the province would expand mail-in and advance voting for the election.
Canada's third-most populous province has been credited with largely managing to contain the pandemic in the first few months, although it has seen cases spike in recent weeks along with the rest of Canada.
But British Columbia had its finances hit hard by the economic downturn triggered by COVID-19, going from a projected surplus of C$227 million ($171 million) for financial year 2020-21 to a forecasted C$12.8 billion ($9.63 billion) deficit.
Horgan hopes to follow the path of Premier Blaine Higgs of the Atlantic province of New Brunswick, whose Progressive Conservative Party government turned its minority mandate into a majority in an election earlier in September.
The western province of Saskatchewan will also hold an election this autumn, although a date has not yet been officially set.
($1 = 1.3314 Canadian dollars)
($1 = 1.3298 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Peter Cooney)