John Horgan navigates cancer diagnosis while becoming B.C.’s longest-serving NDP premier

NDP Leader John Horgan is silhouetted against a reflector as he addresses the media during an election campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Last week was cause for both celebration and deep concern for Premier John Horgan.

The week began with his announcement that he had throat cancer and it ended with him becoming the longest-ever serving NDP premier in B.C. history.

One development is decidedly unwanted, while the other marks an enviable milestone.

In this column, I will examine both.

Despite the cancer finding, Horgan is still a busy premier, albeit out of the public eye. He is doing many things (such as addressing caucus or cabinet) virtually or via the phone.

He remains optimistic about his situation, which is characteristic of him. “My prognosis is good and I expect to make a full recovery,” he said in announcing the news.

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We texted each other and he said he considers his cancer “a bump along the road” and added: “I have had many bumps and am better for the journey.”

His optimism and positivity are genuine. I can say that with some authority, having known him for more than 25 years.

When he begins radiation treatment he may slow down a bit, but we are entering the time of year when government operations (as in cabinet and committee work) also begin to slow down. I will not be surprised to see him back at the legislature full-time in the new year.

Read more: B.C. Premier John Horgan diagnosed with throat cancer

Click to play video: 'Focus Bc Extra: Premier John Horgan hoping to make full recovery from cancer' Focus Bc Extra: Premier John Horgan hoping to make full recovery from cancer
Focus Bc Extra: Premier John Horgan hoping to make full recovery from cancer – Nov 7, 2021


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As for breaking the record for service as an NDP premier, who saw that coming back before the 2017 election that would end up with him moving into the premier’s office?

He had already served longer than Dave Barrett, Glen Clark, Dan Miller and Ujjal Dosanjh and last week he bested Mike Harcourt’s length of term.

Barrett brought in visionary and lasting legislation (establishing ICBC and the Agriculture Land Commission are just two of many accomplishments) and Harcourt’s legacy includes his government’s expansion of provincial parkland and its overhaul of forestry practices.

Clark’s term was cut short by scandal, while Miller and Dosanjh were not in office long enough to establish legacies.

Horgan’s list of accomplishments so far include the enshrinement into law of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (which has far-reaching implications), an overhaul of the auto insurance system, and leading the province through an extraordinary pandemic.

He also led his party to majority government status, making historical breakthroughs by winning seats in places like Chilliwack, Abbotsford and Langley. He has altered the electoral map in ways seldom seen before.

Read more: B.C. premier in ‘good spirits’ after ‘successful’ surgery for growth in throat

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Horgan is not done yet, by any means. I am sure he is itching to get things going again when his radiation treatment ends towards the end of December.

His government finds itself dealing with some political bush fires – deferring a huge amount of old-growth timber from being logged and overhauling the funding model for autism treatment are just two recent ones – and there is no doubt his leadership will be needed internally in dealing with them.

He defied expectations when he turned an uncertain election outcome in 2017 into a minority government.

I suspect he will defy his throat cancer as well. I wish him all the best.

Keith Baldrey is the chief political reporter for Global BC. He is based at the legislature in Victoria.

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