Up close with Pre­mier John Hor­gan and Green Party Leader An­drew Weaver

BC Business Magazine - - Front Page - by STEVE BURGESS por­traits by POOYA NABEI

When his NDP govern­ment took power last year, Pre­mier John Hor­gan trans­formed from crabby Op­po­si­tion leader to beam­ing op­ti­mist. Fend­ing off crit­i­cism from Al­berta, Ot­tawa and the BC Lib­er­als, the talk­a­tive politi­cian weighs in on Site C, Trans Moun­tain, pre­de­ces­sor Christy Clark and his con­tro­ver­sial real es­tate tax WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN, PART 1: JOHN HOR­GAN, JOUR­NAL­IST

“We were steal­ing ap­ples from Bruce Hutchi­son’s back­yard,” the pre­mier re­calls, stand­ing in his spa­cious of­fice in the west an­nex of the pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­ture. Hutchi­son, the late news­pa­per leg­end whose name is on the Life­time Achieve­ment Award pre­sented an­nu­ally by the Jack Web­ster Foun­da­tion to a dis­tin­guished B.C. jour­nal­ist, was a neigh­bour of young John Hor­gan in Saanich. “Ev­ery­body else scat­tered when he came out, but I was too high up the tree,” Hor­gan says. “He said, ‘Wait,’ and came back out with a bushel bas­ket. He said, ‘Take as many as you can put in the bas­ket, but if you break a sin­gle branch you’re never com­ing back.’”

Hutchi­son would end up help­ing to fund Hor­gan’s post­sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion. He wrote him a glow­ing let­ter of rec­om­men­da­tion for the Car­leton Uni­ver­sity jour­nal­ism pro­gram, but the school re­jected Hor­gan any­way. “Even Vaughn Palmer says that let­ter would have been good enough for him,” Hor­gan notes.



“My fa­ther was an Ir­ish im­mi­grant who could sell any­thing to any­body,” Hor­gan says. “He was not a trade union­ist. Quite the con­trary.”

But Pat Hor­gan died when John was just an in­fant. His mother, Alice, got a job with the mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Saanich to sup­port the fam­ily. One day she got into a fight with a su­per­vi­sor. “She ended up telling him to go to hell,” Hor­gan re­mem­bers. “As she was storm­ing out of the of­fice, the union rep said, ‘Don’t leave mad—tell me what hap­pened, and we’ll see what we can do.’ The su­per­vi­sor ended up be­ing dis­missed, and my mom was a strong union sup­porter ever af­ter.”

On May 10, 2017, very few po­lit­i­cal ob­servers were able to see the fu­ture. The pre­vi­ous day’s elec­tion had been a cliffhanger; the makeup of the next govern­ment was still wide open. Ques­tions about what might have been—and about what would be— gripped the prov­ince. What might have been, but for a hand­ful of votes in Courte­nay-co­mox? What will be if the BC NDP can’t find a Lib­eral MLA to sit as Speaker? What will be if Pre­mier Christy Clark can cut a deal with BC Green Party Leader An­drew Weaver?

Few would have guessed that well over a year later, John Hor­gan would not only be the 36th pre­mier of B.C. but would find him­self in a rel­a­tively sta­ble gov­ern­ing sit­u­a­tion.

Nor would any have been likely to pre­dict that Hor­gan would spend so much of his first year in the na­tional spot­light. The dis­pute with Al­berta Pre­mier Rachel Not­ley over the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line ex­pan­sion thrust him onto the na­tional stage like few B.C. pre­miers be­fore him. Mean­while, his de­ci­sion to con­tinue with the Site C hy­dro­elec­tric project and leave the door open to liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas (LNG) de­vel­op­ment sur­prised those who might have ex­pected him to be a hostage to his Green Party al­lies. Com­fort­ably set­tled into the pre­mier­ship, he’s been de­feat­ing most ex­pec­ta­tions of what would be.

The sur­prises ap­pear to ex­tend to Hor­gan him­self. Dur­ing the tele­vised lead­ers’ de­bate, mod­er­a­tor Jen­nifer Burke asked him, “Do you have an anger man­age­ment is­sue?” Weaver, his fu­ture po­lit­i­cal part­ner (see p.36), tried to goad him with school­yard taunts: “Are you gonna get mad at me, too, now, John?” Van­cou­ver Sun writer Rob Shaw de­scribed him in one col­umn as “An­gry John,” and “Hulk Hor­gan.” In their book A Mat­ter of Con­fi­dence: The In­side Story of the Po­lit­i­cal Bat­tle for BC, Shaw and Global News BC re­porter Richard Zuss­man re­port that Hor­gan told cau­cus mates, “I can’t win. They are go­ing to rip me into pieces be­cause I’m the an­gry guy.”

And now? Most of the anger in Hor­gan’s world seems to be ex­ter­nal. Al­berta politi­cians call him nasty names, fed­eral cabi­net min­is­ters at­tack him, and the BC Lib­er­als join in. But Hor­gan keeps on smil­ing. He has be­come a new man. Call him Happy Hor­gan.

“Hor­gan’s tran­si­tion from op­po­si­tion politi­cian to pre­mier has been dra­matic,” says Van­cou­ver Sun po­lit­i­cal colum­nist Vaughn Palmer, “the most dra­matic I’ve wit­nessed in 34 years of cov­er­ing B.C. pol­i­tics. In Op­po­si­tion he was a frus­trated and of­ten an­gry man. As pre­mier, so far, he has been ge­nial, ac­ces­si­ble, gen­er­ous and out­go­ing.”

Fa­ther to two grown sons with El­lie, his wife of 34 years, Hor­gan clearly doesn’t feel com­fort­able with the “an­gry man” tag. ( Years af­ter­ward, he still re­calls his first meet­ing with this writer: “You said to me, ‘Hey, you don’t seem so an­gry.’”) With his large frame, grey hair and hint of beard, he fills out a suit per­fectly well yet seems like he’d be more at home on a con­struc­tion site. Look­ing re­laxed on a May af­ter­noon, he in­sists that Happy Hor­gan is not a new iden­tity. “What I’ve been able to be for the past 10 months is ex­actly who I am,” he says, “some­one who is op­ti­mistic and hope­ful and wants to ef­fect pos­i­tive change.”

He ac­knowl­edges, though, that his pre­vi­ous job can af­fect one’s mood. “I once said that be­ing leader of the Op­po­si­tion is tougher than be­ing pre­mier, and I still main­tain that it’s a tough job,” Hor­gan says. “Be­cause the ex­pec­ta­tion for the leader of the Op­po­si­tion, and [BC Lib­eral Leader An­drew Wilkin­son] is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing this right now, you are obliged to con­demn the govern­ment day af­ter day. And over time that be­comes very dif­fi­cult for the soul, be­cause as hu­man be­ings we are in­nately op­ti­mistic. We want to be hope­ful each day. The leader of the Op­po­si­tion is paid fort­nightly by the Queen to be grumpy and an­gry and bel­liger­ent. The worst day in govern­ment is bet­ter than the best day in Op­po­si­tion.”

As for Wilkin­son, his as­sess­ment of the pre­mier cer­tainly fits that job de­scrip­tion. “John Hor­gan is ex­tremely short-sighted when it comes to the com­plex­ity of our econ­omy,” he says. “He thinks he can tax job cre­ators but not im­pact job cre­ation. He thinks he can poke the fed­eral govern­ment in the eye over the Kin­der Mor­gan pipe­line but re­main close al­lies on a wide range of pro­grams that re­quire fed­eral co­op­er­a­tion—which means ev­ery­thing from en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion to mar­i­juana to fight­ing gang crime to health fund­ing. So John Hor­gan has big prob­lems with eco­nomic pol­icy that his team wants to ig­nore, and he con­tin­ues to have ma­jor in­ter­nal bat­tles within his own NDP cau­cus—and that prob­lem will only get worse.”

And what of Hor­gan’s strengths? “John Hor­gan is clearly ded­i­cated to pub­lic ser­vice within the NDP mind­set,” Wilkin­son says. “He has spent most of his adult life work­ing in pol­i­tics, and al­though that of­ten leads to tun­nel vi­sion, his un­wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to his ideals is re­mark­able.”

“John Hor­gan is clearly ded­i­cated to pub­lic ser­vice within the NDP mind­set. He has spent most of his adult life work­ing in pol­i­tics, and al­though that of­ten leads to tun­nel vi­sion, his un­wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to his ideals is re­mark­able” — An­drew Wilkin­son, BC Lib­eral Leader



“When I was in Op­po­si­tion, I was on the rose-gar­den side [of the leg­is­la­ture build­ing],” Hor­gan says, “and I would hang out the win­dow and heckle peo­ple. My great­est en­gage­ment was with Christy. One day she was walk­ing down the path. She was wear­ing a red out­fit. I said, ‘If this was an away mis­sion, you wouldn’t be com­ing home.’”

This jibe re­quires a bit of Star Trek knowl­edge—as fans of the show un­der­stand, anony­mous en­signs who wear red uni­forms are fre­quently killed off early in an episode. Clark got it. “She im­me­di­ately turned around,” Hor­gan re­calls, “and said, ‘My phaser’s on stun, be­cause I like ya.’

“I thought, Good for you. I gave her full marks for a quick re­tort.”

Even that bit of barbed ban­ter may be more than the cur­rent Op­po­si­tion leader could man­age. Wilkin­son doesn’t con­sider him­self to be one of the pre­mier’s bud­dies. “In the leg­is­la­ture, we ar­gue about pol­icy, but most of us have long-time re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple on the other side,” he says. “But John Hor­gan is not one of the peo­ple who makes friends eas­ily, and I have never got­ten to know him.”

Wilkin­son isn’t the only one heck­ling Hor­gan. Cal­gary Mayor Na­heed Nen­shi re­cently told a Cal­gary re­porter that Hor­gan is “one of the worst politi­cians we’ve seen in Canada in decades; he ap­peals to pop­ulism in a way that is not based on fact. What we’re see­ing here is an enor­mous amount of mis­in­for­ma­tion. But what we’re also see­ing is that the pub­lic is not buy­ing it.”

The neigh­bours seem to have got­ten nas­tier since Hor­gan’s ap­ple-steal­ing days. While Nen­shi launched rhetor­i­cal bombs, Al­berta Pre­mier Not­ley waged war over the Trans Moun­tain ex­pan­sion with a wine boy­cott, an ad cam­paign and a threat to shut down the prov­ince’s fuel sup­plies. “I am ready and pre­pared to turn off the taps,” Not­ley said at a May 16 press con­fer­ence.

The same day, Fed­eral Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau laced into Hor­gan over the pipe­line ex­pan­sion bat­tle. “What Pre­mier Hor­gan has done is un­con­sti­tu­tional,” Morneau said. “And we are go­ing to deal with the risk pre­sented by Pre­mier Hor­gan.”

Hor­gan’s court chal­lenge to the pipe­line was widely de­rided as a mere de­lay­ing tac­tic. Then came this sum­mer’s shock de­ci­sion by the Fed­eral Court of Ap­peal that the project must be halted for fur­ther study and con­sul­ta­tion.

Through it all, Hor­gan largely pro­jected an aura of calm, as if it was all just pol­i­tics as usual. “The con­sti­tu­tion, the dis­tri­bu­tion of pow­ers in our Cana­dian con­text is some­thing that has been evolv­ing since the BNA [Bri­tish North Amer­ica] Act,” he says. “I am not at all sur­prised that we would have a dis­agree­ment on ju­ris­dic­tion. Th­ese things have hap­pened through­out our his­tory with reg­u­lar­ity.

“I was in Ot­tawa weeks ago with Rachel, whom I have known for a long time and have great re­spect for, and Justin Trudeau,” Hor­gan re­lates. “And the three of us were sit­ting in a room—could be char­ac­ter­ized as among the three most pro­gres­sive politi­cians in the coun­try—and we were dis­agree­ing, sub­stan­tially, around a sig­nif­i­cant is­sue. But at the end of it all I was still smil­ing, still com­fort­able be­cause I knew the val­ues that we all brought into the room were con­sis­tent.”

If ev­ery po­lit­i­cal party has its di­vi­sions, the NDP schism is more pro­nounced than most—labour on one side, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists on the other. Hor­gan’s two big­gest po­si­tions have placed one foot squarely in both camps. While his pipe­line op­po­si­tion has pleased the Greens, his go-ahead on Site C dealt them a ma­jor shock. “Site C was a de­ci­sion that I wouldn’t have made,” he says. “I would have looked at $10 bil­lion in cap­i­tal in­vest­ment in new tech­nol­ogy as a bet­ter way to go. But when we took of­fice, [the project] was 25-per­cent com­plete, and new govern­ments—re­gard­less of po­lit­i­cal stripe—should not burn bil­lions of dol­lars for no good out­come.

“That’s what hap­pens when you’re in govern­ment,” Hor­gan con­tin­ues. “Rachel Not­ley said to me that she did not get into pol­i­tics to build a pipe­line. But right now for her econ­omy and her peo­ple in Al­berta, she be­lieves that’s the best course of ac­tion. So cir­cum­stances de­velop out-

comes when it comes to poli­cies like this.”

Colum­nist Palmer be­lieves the Site C de­ci­sion wasn’t re­ally such a stretch for the pre­mier. “Hor­gan hails from the hard-hatwear­ing side of the NDP, not the en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist side,” he says. “His sup­port for con­tin­u­ing with Site C and LNG de­vel­op­ment is sin­cere.”

While in Op­po­si­tion, the NDP was crit­i­cal of the Lib­eral govern­ment’s LNG plans, but Hor­gan says it wasn’t de­vel­op­ment they ob­jected to. “My con­cern was the pre­mier’s hy­per­bolic ap­proach to ev­ery­thing,” he says. “Ev­ery­thing was 100 times big­ger— we’re not go­ing to have any debt any more, the streets will be paved with gold, ev­ery­one’s go­ing to have an LNG plant. ‘You’re gonna have an LNG plant, you’re gonna have an LNG plant,’ like on Oprah. My po­si­tion to­day is the same as it was be­fore the elec­tion: if in­vestors be­lieve that they can make money and if it can fit into the frame­work of en­sur­ing First Na­tions par­tic­i­pa­tion—which is now a court re­quire­ment—if our cli­mate ac­tion goals can be re­al­ized, there’s lo­cal jobs, and we get a ben­e­fit from the de­vel­op­ment of the project, then let’s go.”

Wilkin­son be­lieves ten­sion in the NDP cau­cus is a real prob­lem for Hor­gan, cit­ing Nanaimo MLA Leonard Krog’s de­ci­sion to run for mayor of that city, po­ten­tially im­per­illing the govern­ment’s ten­u­ous hold on power. “It’s a very sur­pris­ing move,” Wilkin­son says, “and one that must have John Hor­gan wish­ing he could go back in time and treat Leonard Krog with more re­spect.

“John Hor­gan is lead­ing a govern­ment based on the idea of ‘tax first, sort out the plan later,’” Wilkin­son adds. “We’ve watched them raise taxes on ev­ery­thing from gaso­line to fam­ily cab­ins to busi­ness pay­rolls to the value of peo­ple’s homes. Em­ploy­ment is flat and start­ing to de­cline, hous­ing prices are still reach­ing record highs, and we have all been forced into be­com­ing in­vestors in the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line, whether we wanted it or not. So I’d say this past year has been a se­ri­ous dis­ap­point­ment to most Bri­tish Columbians.”

The NDP has never been the first choice of the B.C. busi­ness com­mu­nity. But Hor­gan says fear of the so­cial­ist hordes has al­ways been overblown. “Any­body who spends time with [for­mer NDP pre­mier] Mike Harcourt would be hard-pressed to call him a scream­ing com­mu­nist,” he says. “I’ve done ev­ery­thing I can to meet with busi­ness rep­re­sen­ta­tives, al­ways with the view that they un­der­stand that I want them to suc­ceed. I want B.C.’S pros­per­ity to con­tinue.”

In fact, Harcourt has drifted so far from the teach­ings of Karl Marx that he’s pub­licly at­tacked Hor­gan’s ed­u­ca­tion tax, a levy on real es­tate val­ues above $3 mil­lion. But Hor­gan says the mea­sure is in fact probusi­ness, be­cause it at­tempts to ad­dress the busi­ness com­mu­nity’s stated con­cerns over the dif­fi­culty of sus­tain­ing a work­force.

“Busi­ness af­ter busi­ness said to me, Our em­ploy­ees can’t live here be­cause they can’t find a place for their kids to be cared for, they can’t af­ford to find a house to live in, and we’re not cre­at­ing the spa­ces to train them to fill the jobs we need to­day,” he ex­plains. “So I have been putting money into ed­u­ca­tion, money into child care, putting money into hous­ing. The ed­u­ca­tion tax af­fects a very small num­ber of peo­ple, and it’s a very small amount of money when you con­sider that the aver­age house price in Van­cou­ver went up about 6 per­cent last year. And we’re ask­ing for a thou­sand dol­lars of that to put into hous­ing pro­grams, which will sta­bi­lize the mar­ket­place.”



“I was fail­ing out in Grade 9, hang­ing out be­hind the band room do­ing things that were il­le­gal,” Hor­gan says. “And my bas­ket­ball coach said, ‘What are you do­ing? There’s way more here than you think there is.’ And he pulled me back on track, and he and the whole group of teach­ers and the prin­ci­pal kind of in­vested in me. I ended up be­com­ing the stu­dent body pres­i­dent in Grade 12, I got a cou­ple of uni­ver­sity de­grees, and I’m the pre­mier of B.C. If you’d asked my Grade 9 teacher, ‘What is John Hor­gan gonna do?’ none of that would have been on the radar.”

Still, many seemed to see some­thing in young Hor­gan. How many ap­ple thieves end up get­ting fi­nan­cial sup­port from their vic­tims? “Dad rec­og­nized John’s po­ten­tial, and they in­deed car­ried on many an­i­mated po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sions at the break­fast ta­ble at Rock­home,” says Bruce Hutchi­son’s son, Robert, a re­tired pro­vin­cial judge. “I know my dad ad­mired John as a friend and a promis­ing young man who he helped men­tor in his for­ma­tive years. I’m sure he would have been de­lighted with his suc­cess­ful ca­reer lead­ing to the pre­mier­ship.”

That sense of com­mu­nity re­spon­si­bil­ity demon­strated by Hutchi­son and his teach­ers is what drew Hor­gan to the NDP. It’s also why he thinks that, de­spite some ap­pear­ances, the NDP af­fil­i­a­tion is still im­por­tant. Even as an Al­berta NDP pre­mier throws grenades at him, a pre­vi­ous B.C. NDP pre­mier gripes about his ed­u­ca­tion tax and the en­vi­ron­men­tal wing of the party at­tacks his poli­cies and de­ci­sions, Hor­gan still proudly waves the party ban­ner.

“I think the brand mat­ters, the val­ues mat­ter,” he says, point­ing to a frame on his of­fice wall—a 1940s-era cam­paign poster of the Co-op­er­a­tive Com­mon­wealth Fed­er­a­tion, fore­run­ner to the NDP. It reads: “Hu­man­ity First; Peo­ple Be­fore Prof­its.”

“I got in­volved in pol­i­tics through the so­cial gospel,” Hor­gan ex­plains. “I think the brands mat­ter to the pub­lic so the pub­lic can see where your core val­ues are. But the day you are elected, you have to deal with the is­sues that are in front of you. Not in front of your neigh­bour or the neigh­bour be­side that neigh­bour, but in front of you.”


“I do like to talk,” the pre­mier says. “I talk a lot.”

Once, Hor­gan re­calls, he was sched­uled to ap­pear on Vaughn Palmer’s TV pro­gram Voice of BC, and Palmer had no voice. “You could barely hear him,” Hor­gan says. “He said to me in a whis­per, ‘Just go, John. Talk!’ And I did. I think that’s my destiny. I can string sen­tences to­gether. Talk­ing for half an hour is dead sim­ple for me. CFAX hosts would love to get me as a guest be­cause Hor­gan, he’ll just talk the whole time.”

Palmer agrees. “With his gift of the gab, Hor­gan would have been a great broad­caster, in the tra­di­tion of B.C.’S other politi­cian-broad­cast­ers: Rafe Mair, Christy Clark, Dave Bar­rett, Jim Nielsen, Bar­rie Clark.”

Hor­gan isn’t get­ting a re­sumé to­gether quite yet. He’s pretty happy right where he is.

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