John Horgan speaking at a press conference
British Columbia Premier John Horgan speaks at a press conference in February of 2019 (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Pop­u­lar British Colum­bia Pre­mier John Hor­gan, six­ty-three, who recent­ly under­went a sec­ond bout with can­cer, announced Tues­day that he will leave office this fall after his gov­ern­ing New Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty picks his successor.

Hor­gan told a news con­fer­ence that his health is good “but my ener­gy flags”: He under­went thir­ty-three radi­a­tion treat­ments in the win­ter and spring.

He will go out after host­ing Canada’s provin­cial pre­miers in Vic­to­ria next month, with a goal of pres­sur­ing Canada’s fed­er­al gov­ern­ment into assum­ing a greater share of the country’s health care costs.

Hor­gan has been a mem­ber of the British Columbi­a’s Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly for sev­en­teen years, leader of the New Democ­rats for eight years, and pre­mier for five years. He gov­erned with a leg­isla­tive minor­i­ty for three years and won a major­i­ty gov­ern­ment in an elec­tion late in 2020.

“I have some time left in me: I feel good enough to keep con­tribut­ing,” said Hor­gan. The pre­mier and his wife Ellie reached a moment of deci­sion on a walk watch­ing otters at play off Otter Point on Van­cou­ver Island. “There was a moment when we said, ‘Let’s do more of this and less of that’,” he joked.

British Colum­bia has endured a series of nat­ur­al calami­ties since Hor­gan became pre­mier in the spring of 2017. Cli­mate dam­age has impact­ed the province with record for­est and range fires, rang­ing from Tele­graph Creek near the Alas­ka bor­der to Koote­nay Nation­al Park at the Con­ti­nen­tal Divide. B.C. expe­ri­enced record heat a year ago, with a fire devour­ing the town of Lyt­ton in the Fras­er Canyon. An atmos­pher­ic riv­er last Novem­ber flood­ed the Fras­er Val­ley and cut off land access to the Low­er Main­land from the rest of Canada.

John Horgan speaking
BCNDP leader John Hor­gan speak­ing on Elec­tion Night in 2017

The province has won applause for its treat­ment of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. with dai­ly brief­in­gs by Health Offi­cer Dr. Bon­nie Hen­ry and B.C. Health Min­is­ter Adri­an Dix. The gov­ern­ment, at one point, restrict­ed trav­el between regions of the coun­try. In the spring of 2020, with Puget Sound an ear­ly epi­cen­ter of coro­n­avirus deaths, B.C. pressed the Cana­di­an gov­ern­ment to close the bor­der to nonessen­tial traffic.

Hor­gan has field­ed a strong cab­i­net. Its lead­ing lights include Attor­ney Gen­er­al David Eby, Min­is­ter of Jobs Ravi Kahlon (a for­mer Olympic field hock­ey play­er) and Health Min­is­ter Dix. Under Dix, how­ev­er, the New Democ­rats lost an impor­tant 2013 provin­cial elec­tion they were expect­ed to win.

The New Democ­rats are a big tent that includes orga­nized labor, envi­ron­men­tal­ists, fem­i­nists and Abo­rig­i­nal First Nations. Ele­ments of the par­ty are known to feud. Wit­ness sit-ins and arrests at old growth log­ging oper­a­tions on Van­cou­ver Island, and native block­ades of a gas pipeline route in north­west B.C.

The party’s base has expand­ed under Hor­gan as it has won sub­ur­ban-exur­ban leg­isla­tive seats in the Fras­er Riv­er Val­ley, the Van­cou­ver sub­urb of Rich­mond, and on the North Shore above Van­cou­ver. The long-rul­ing (not very lib­er­al) Lib­er­al Par­ty has been reduced to a large­ly rur­al base in inte­ri­or British Columbia.

Hor­gan was a tem­pera­men­tal oppo­si­tion leader, but has proven an avun­cu­lar head of gov­ern­ment. With forty-one seats in the Assem­bly, the New Democ­rats teamed with three Green Par­ty law­mak­ers to oust the long-rul­ing Lib­er­als and form a forty-four-mem­ber major­i­ty in the eighty-sev­en-mem­ber body.

Hor­gan became premier.

Hor­gan has one recent stum­ble. The gov­ern­ment announced it would spend near­ly $800 mil­lion (Cana­di­an) to tear down and rebuild the Roy­al British Colum­bia Muse­um in Vic­to­ria. The “megapro­ject” gen­er­at­ed out­rage giv­en the province’s hous­ing, health and edu­ca­tion needs. Hor­gan backed off, saying,”I made the wrong call…  I’ve heard the peo­ple of British Colum­bia quite clear­ly that we were mak­ing the wrong deci­sion at the wrong time.”

Jay Inslee and John Horgan
Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee and Pre­mier John Hor­gan take ques­tions from reporters in Seat­tle (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Hor­gan has enjoyed excel­lent rela­tions with Wash­ing­ton Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee. The two have dreamed of future high-speed rail ser­vice up and down the I‑5 corridor. 

Both lead­ers opposed – but could not stop – the Cana­di­an gov­ern­ment from a project to triple capac­i­ty of the Trans Moun­tain Pipeline. The pipeline will car­ry Alber­ta tar sands oil to a ter­mi­nal near Burn­a­by, just east of Vancouver.

The project will triple oil tanker traf­fic through the San Juan and Gulf Islands out the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The tanker route pass­es through some of the world’s most sen­si­tive marine waters includ­ing, nation­al parks and mon­u­ments in both the U.S. and Canada.

Why did Hor­gan bow out? “I am not able to make anoth­er six-year com­mit­ment to this job,” he said, mean­ing going through anoth­er elec­tion campaign.

Serv­ing as pre­mier, he added, “has been the thrill of my life.”

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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