VANCOUVER -- British Columbians will be heading to the polls next month after NDP Leader John Horgan called a snap election during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Horgan made the announcement Monday after meeting with Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin and asking her to dissolve the legislature.

The news comes after weeks of speculation that Horgan would seek a new mandate in the middle of the crisis.

"None of us thought this would be how we would spend 2020 when it started nine months ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything," Horgan said Monday. "We are in unprecedented times, with challenges we could have never imagined."

Horgan said he "struggled mightily" with the decision to call an election.

"It did not come easy to me," he said. "I understand that families are concerned about their loved ones and their livelihood. I know that people are uncertain and worried about the future."

But the NDP leader argued the crisis, which officials expect to last for at least another year, demands "secure and stable" government.

"That's why I believe we need to have an election now," he said.

"We can either delay that decision and create uncertainty and instability over the next 12 months … or we can do what I believe is always the right thing and ask British Columbians what they think."

Without a snap election, British Columbians would have been scheduled to head to the polls in October 2021.

"Like everything these days, this election will be unlike any other, but I do believe it can be conducted safely," Horgan said, adding that advanced voting and mail-in voting opportunities will be available.

Horgan said that Finance Minister Carole James, who is also the deputy premier, will "stay behind" during the lead up to the election to work with the professional public service.

"There is not a person in British Columbia that I have more confidence in than her, and I am sure that she will administer the government of British Columbia to meet the needs of British Columbians as issues arise in a way that will do us all proud," Horgan said.

General voting day will be Saturday, Oct. 24. Advanced voting will be from Oct 16 to Oct. 21.

New leader for the B.C. Green Party, Sonia Furstenau, said she was "disappointed" Horgan called an early election.

"I fully intend to hold him accountable for this decision," she said after Horgan's announcement.

Andrew Wilkinson, leader of the BC Liberals, echoed the sentiment.

"Today, John Horgan chose politics over people," he said Monday afternoon, saying the election was called "for no good reason whatsoever."

"The only reason for this election is to try to secure the jobs of the NDP," he said. 

Horgan's approval ratings have skyrocketed during the COVID-19 crisis. One poll conducted by Insights West earlier in the summer showed the premier's approval had ballooned to 68 per cent – the highest level obtained by a political leader since the research company began tracking eight years ago.

So far, seven members of Horgan's cabinet have announced they will not be running in the next election. That list includes: 

  • Claire Trevena, minister of transportation
  • Judy Darcy, minister of mental health and addictions
  • Michelle Mungall, minister of jobs, economic development and competitiveness
  • Shane Simpson, minister of social development and poverty reduction
  • Scott Fraser, minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation
  • Doug Donaldson, minister of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development
  • Carole James, finance minister, who announced she would not run again in the spring

"They have served British Columbians very, very well," Horgan said about the cabinet members stepping down.

"This is a time to renew the legislature."

Holding an election during a global pandemic will present certain challenges, which Elections BC has been considering for months. Back in July, a spokesperson told CTV News they were anticipating up to 40 per cent of votes to be cast by mail in the next provincial election. That would require about 800,000 vote-by-mail packages.

By comparison, only 11,268 packages were sent in the 2017 election, and only 6,517 were returned on time.

CTV News has reached out to Elections BC for an update on their working estimates in light of Horgan's election call.