This is the first in a series of profiles on the leaders of B.C.’s major political parties in the run-up to the provincial election on Oct. 24. Check back Thursday for a look at BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson and on Friday for BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau.
John Horgan is a man looking to make history.
The story of the mercurial Irishman is now well told. The son a single mom, he grew up in poverty on Vancouver Island, narrowly avoiding being kicked out of high school in Grade 9 to graduate and head to Ontario for university.
“I understand more than many that when you need a hand up you should offer it. We certainly received many hands up,” Horgan told Global News Wednesday, reflecting on his upbringing.
Since then, Horgan has received a master’s degree in Australia for history, and started working for the BC NDP government in the 1990s.
The now 61-year-old was forced to reinvent himself when the NDP were dumped out of power in 2001, only to reemerge as an MLA following the 2005 election. He has been serving his community in the Juan de Fuca area on Vancouver Island ever since.
In 2017, as the NDP leader, he led the party to 41 seats and was the favourite of the BC Greens at the negotiating table. That deal made Horgan the premier after Christy Clark’s Liberal government fell.
But enough with the history. Voters in British Columbia want to look forward and make a decision on whether they believe Horgan is the right person to continue to lead the province.
“I believe I have been able to make life more affordable for British Columbians,” Horgan said.
“I can work with business leaders, union leaders, not-for-profits. community leaders and bring people together.”
The COVID-19 recovery has been intensely personal for British Columbians.
Horgan has relied heavily on provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to communicate the province’s response to the virus. He has also counted on her advice, including a recommendation that elections could be safely run during a pandemic.
More than 100,000 people have lost their jobs across the province. Hundreds of thousands of parents have grappled with the decision to send their kids back to school. Visible minorities, especially in the Chinese community, have been victims of discrimination due to the virus.
When asked how he can relate to these struggles he hasn’t experienced, he says he gets motivation and inspiration from those around him. His daughter-in-law is a kindergarten teacher and has been grappling with anxiety about returning to the classroom.
“She wants to be with her kids but she understands that COVID has created this anxiety and fear through the community, and I experienced this through her,” Horgan said.
“I have a niece who is immuno-compromised and also a teacher. Her anxiety is through the roof. I experience that through family connections. I experience that through my work as an MLA.”
The latest effort to fight racial inequality and systemic racism around the world has affected him as well. He acknowledged he has often reflected on how to address his own white privilege.
His government has addressed issues of First Nations consultation through UNDRIP legislation, but has also received vocal opposition from many British Columbians protesting and blockading over the opposition to the Coastal GasLink project by some Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
“I’m a six-foot-two, 250-pound white male who gets the title of premier. I can’t personify white privilege more than that. So I can’t have the lived experience of people of colour who deal with systemic racism everyday. But I can do my best every day to do my part to eliminate that systemic racism,” Horgan said.
Horgan is facing new challenges. He has built up a popularity as premier that, as of this year, made him the most popular premier in the country. He has led the charge is addressing childcare, housing affordability and transit.
But along the way there have been some broken promises. The BC NDP were never able to convince the BC Greens to support a $400 renters’ rebate. The promise is now back this election but only available for households making $80,000 a year and less.
The $10-a-day childcare program is not as far along as many expected and many students are still attending school in Surrey portables.
There is also the larger question of whether voters can still count on Horgan. He signed a Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Greens clearly stating he would not call an early election. In breaking that promise, Horgan said it’s never a bad time to ask British Columbians how they feel and wanted to get a mandate to continue the COVID-19 recovery.
“Trust isn’t given, it’s earned and you need to earn it every day,” Horgan said.
Although the NDP leader is far ahead in the polls, he is not taking the election for granted. His long-term goal only extends to as far as Oct. 24, with the singular focus of getting enough New Democrats elected to form a majority government.
But eventually questions will start to come at a higher frequency over his future. For now, Horgan won’t say whether this election will be his last.
“I can’t predict where I will be or what I will be doing four years from now. But I can tell you I am committed to a four-year term to do my level best to lift British Columbians up,” Horgan said.