VICTORIA -- British Columbians will head to polls in a snap election next month, three years after the ruling NDP formed a minority government in the province.

Premier John Horgan announced the Oct. 24 general election in a live news conference Monday after asking the lieutenant-governor to dissolve parliament.

"I've struggled mightily with this decision and it did not come easily to me," Horgan said from outside his Langford home.

While B.C. has a fixed election date set for October 2021, the premier said waiting another 12 months would hamper government efforts to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This pandemic will be with us for a year or more and that is why I believe we need to have an election now," Horgan said. "To wait for the next election seems to me like time wasted when we could all be rolling up our sleeves and focusing on the things that matter most to British Columbians."

Horgan's popularity with voters has soared during the pandemic, attaining the highest approval rating of any Canadian premier, according to one poll last month

A similar survey conducted in July found Horgan garnered the highest reviews of any B.C. political leader in the last eight years.

As of Monday, however, seven of the premier's cabinet ministers have announced they will not run in the coming election.

Among them are Transportation Minister Claire Trevena; Finance Minister Carole James; Jobs and Economic Development Minister Michelle Mungall; Social Development Minister Shane Simpson; Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser; Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy; and Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources.

BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson responded Monday to the premier's election call, saying Horgan's decision puts "politics over people."

"We've got a government that is cynical enough to put us through a general election in the middle of a pandemic," Wilkinson said in a live news conference.

Horgan had used part of his announcement Monday to take an early jab at the Opposition, saying he expected the Liberals to focus on the "wealthy and well-connected" instead of everyday British Columbians.

Horgan's minority government was forged out of an agreement with the BC Green Party in 2017.

The premier said the arrangement with the Greens has changed after former Green leader Andrew Weaver stepped down from the position in January.

The NDP and Liberals were tied with 41 seats each when the legislature was dissolved by Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin. The Greens held two seats, while two more were held by Independents and one seat was vacant.

'There is no legitimate justification for this election'

Newly minted Green Leader Sonia Furstenau on Monday accused Horgan of pursuing political power over protecting the health and safety of British Columbians with his election call during the pandemic.

"As British Columbians are continuing to make sacrifices due to COVID-19, Horgan is choosing his own political fortunes over doing his job to serve them," said Furstenau, who was elected to lead the party on Sept. 14.

"There is no legitimate justification for this election," the Green leader added. "The premier has a stable government. I met with him on Friday and made it clear that we were willing to continue to work together in the best interest of British Columbians. This election call is blatantly about the NDP seeing an opportunity - even in the midst of a pandemic - to put their own self interest ahead of yours."

Over the coming 32-day campaign, Carole James, who also serves as the deputy premier, will act as the "stay-behind minister" in Horgan's place.

"There is not a person in British Columbia that I have more confidence in than her," Horgan said. "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."

The premier said early voting and mail-in ballots will be encouraged during the election and said his campaign will "fully comply with public health directions" during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Oct. 24 general voting day is a Saturday. Advanced voting will be held at polls across the province between Oct. 16 and Oct. 21.