Premier John Horgan and the New Democratic Party have won re-election and there are some big decisions coming. The fate of the Site C hydroelectric project and the Massey crossing alone will involve billions of dollars and many thousands of jobs. Will B.C. families get their $1,000 stimulus cheques in time for the holidays? Will ridings change hands as hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots are counted?
Let’s take them one at a time.
The final count
Exactly 1,212,722 people cast valid votes in advance polls and on election day, according to Elections B.C. But about 525,000 mail-in ballots and 85,000 absentee ballots are still to be counted. Elections B.C. has assembled dedicated teams in each electoral district to process those outstanding ballots and ensure that the people who mailed them in didn’t vote already. The final count will begin Friday, Nov. 6, and last three or more days, followed by a six-day window in which a judicial recount can be requested if a race is particularly tight. Chief Electoral Officer Anton Boegman is aiming to deliver final results on Nov. 16, but it could easily take longer due to the volume of mail-in ballots.
The Massey crossing conundrum
Development of a business case to replace the George Massey Tunnel was suspended for the campaign period. But once the government decides whether to pursue a tunnel or a bridge doesn’t have much effect on the timeline for completion. A bridge will require up to two years for an environmental review and five years for construction. The tunnel option simply adds a year to the environmental review. A new crossing could optimistically be in place by 2028.
A return to the House?
Horgan will not recall the legislature before the dust has settled on this election. The writs of election are not due to be returned to the Chief Electoral Officer until Nov. 16 at the earliest. If any candidates are separated by 100 votes or less a judicial recount could be requested, which could push that date. Once the count is final, Horgan can swear in a new cabinet and announce a date for recalling the House. Once in session, a Speaker will be elected, paving the way for the Speech from the Throne. In 2001, then-premier Gordon Campbell won a majority and had the “the Ledge” in working order in just 12 days. As a returning government, Horgan can probably do it faster.
— With a file from Vaughn Palmer
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At least four races have a margin of less than two per cent, with two Liberals and two New Democrats currently leading. An analysis of the political affiliations of mail-in voters suggests that the Greens can expect the biggest bump when those votes are counted, followed by the NDP, writes UBC professor Werner Antweiler. “There is no indication that Liberal candidates can expect a big boost from mail-in votes that would turn around electoral results,” he notes.
What will happen to Site C?
Engineer and former deputy finance minister Peter Milburn was hired to review the troubled Site C project after B.C. Hydro admitted that geotechnical concerns are pushing up costs. Horgan has been tight-lipped about the project before and through the campaign period, dodging questions as recently as last Friday. Originally estimated to cost $6 billion, that figure was revised to $10.7 billion last March, at which time more than $5 billion had already been spent. The bill seems likely to climb even higher, unless the project is abandoned. Milburn is expected to deliver his report in late November or early December.
Will there be cash for Christmas?
About halfway through the campaign period, Horgan revealed the centrepiece of his re-election platform: A one-time $1,000 “recovery benefit” to families with a household income under $125,000. Individuals earning less than $62,000 are to be eligible for $500. Higher income folks will receive smaller amounts on a sliding scale. Whether anyone gets anything depends on recalling the legislature for a fall session and the premier won’t do that until every ballot is counted and every MLA confirmed as elected, which won’t happen for at least three weeks. Horgan told the Postmedia editorial board that he hopes to have payments delivered by Christmas, but on Sunday wondered aloud if he will have time to recall the House. Last spring, it took roughly six weeks between the declaration of the public health emergency and the opening of applications for the $1,000 B.C. Emergency Benefit for Workers. With that apparatus already in place, it should be quicker this time around.