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John Horgan: The man in the corner office

Leader of the Official Opposition John Horgan - Pirjo Raits
Leader of the Official Opposition John Horgan
— image credit: Pirjo Raits

Since becoming Leader of the Official Opposition Juan de Fuca MLA John Horgan is adjusting to life behind the big desk.

The transition from MLA to NDP Party Leader was faster than he thought and he sat to speak with the Sooke News Mirror about his life in the corner office.

Horgan initially felt the new generation in the party should step up to the plate and take the reins as leader, but things didn’t happen that way.

“I felt if I was running the young people wouldn’t step up,” said Horgan. He mentioned mentioned Gregor Robertson, Nathan Cullen and Fin Donnelly, as potential leaders and about another half dozen people under 35.

Well, they didn’t and Horgan said this was a good thing and an organic unfolding began just as it should be.

Frank Mitchell, a former MLA in the 1950s living in Shirley, said to Horgan, “since when did you become old? You should stick with it.”

Horgan took this in and thought, “I’m at the prime of  my life not the end of time,” and went for the leadership. He became the acclaimed leader in early May and is revved up and passionate about the role he has taken on.

“I’m grateful that I did. It feels good, I think I did the right thing. The team is excited, it’s united and focussing on being positive. We are there to hold the government accountable — that’s our job,” he said. “We’re putting together policies that will help us to win next time out.”

Horgan is already at it, trying to win back old voters and convert new ones.

“I just came back from Tumbler Ridge and Fort St John, they don’t vote NDP, never voted NDP.  They liked me.”

He said the Liberals had painted the NDP as being against job growth during last year’s election. He said another “language” was needed in the north, the same words don’t work the same as on the coast. He wants to find out from those people what they are you not hearing from the NDP and how can the party can change that. During the last election Horgan said, “Our message started to ring flat.”

He said forestry and copper prices went down and the  Liberals did a good job of branding the NDP as against job growth.  The NDP did not delve into the past “mistakes” of the Liberal government. He said people don’t remember details but they do remember tag lines like “fast ferries.”

“What we did not do was convince people to throw these people out and that we deserve a chance,” he said.

Horgan mentioned low information voters — those voters who make a decision just before the election. In Sooke, he said, people made their choice based on trust. They trusted John Horgan locally but that did not carry to the rest of the province.

“We didn’t make the case that you can trust us and can’t trust them,” said Horgan. “It was better the devil we know than the devil we don’t.”

There was a great pile of scandal surrounding the Liberals, he said, but the NDP stopped talking about it once the election started. People just didn’t get sense of what our team was about, stated Horgan. That’s in the past now and Horgan said he wants to move forward as leader and be smart about it.

He said the fact that it was by acclaimation, means he has everyone behind him and it is very liberating.

“I  can say to colleagues, I’m staying in Sooke this weekend… I’m  not missing the fall fair or the Sooke grad, which gives me hope  —  all of us hope for the future.”

In his own neighborhood in Langford Horgan is just another guy on the street. His neighbour said, “There’s the next premier of BC digging his own ditch.” Horgan said his wife Ellie brings him down to earth and he recognizes that his kids need his advice and a hug now and then and the grass needs to be cut.

“I’m just like everybody else, I don’t want to lose sight of that.”

Has this new job been fun so far?

“Yeah, that was also a fear. Most of my friends consider me to have a sense of humour. Seeing the absurd in life gives me joy. I try really hard to continue to have fun.”

He mentioned Dave Barrett’s wife, Shirley, whom he talked to before he announced he would try for the leadership.

He asked her, ‘what would Dave say?’ She said, “keep smiling at ‘em Horgan cause it drives the bast**ds crazy.”

When asked what he would do about the teachers’ strike, he said — bargain.

“Teachers want to bargain somethings locally, somethings provincially,” he said.

SD 62 is one of the few school districts with a growing population and they need more teachers, not less like 70 per cent of other districts in B.C. The same is true for  Fort St. John, which Horgan says is “on fire.”

“One size doesn’t fit all… the government is provoking a fight and that is  very short sighted. The teachers made their case in court twice, and the government  has not bargained in good faith. To say they are going to cut wages by 10 per cent, why are they doing that? For teachers not to monitor recess is unfortunate but it’s not devastating.”

He said for the government to lock teachers out at grad time was wrong as graduates only get to do it once. Horgan felt escalating strikes at the end of the year is unnecessary, they could have negotiated a collective agreement over the summer. He said there is a level of frustration coming from parents. Many kids from 2002 on have seen only labour unrest in their school years.

“All on the Liberal watch,” said Horgan.  “The partisan in me says there’s a cause and effect, the pragmatist, says let’s figure it out.”

Horgan readily admits that the biggest issue for the NDP is earning back the trust of the voters.

“From Hope to the Yukon border, that’s where I’m going to spend most of my time. I  can go to a boardroom or lunchroom and speak that language with authority. I’ve been a millworker, negotiated significant deals...  I can talk to business and industry, that was one of the reasons why young caucus members came to me, they said you understand government, business and community. I want the economy to grow, I want there to be jobs in the resource sector, techology, video gaming and the green environment.”

What would you like the people in the Juan de Fuca to know about you or your new role or what do they need to know?

“I am grateful for support regardless of party lines, I try to  do the best I can to  be balanced… I’m going to try my level best to always have everybody in mind when I make decisions. It’s hard to do. They don’t need decisive action man they need reflective compassionate man and want decisions to be made on solid evidence… the democratic principles and the majority interest.”

He wants to at least explain to unhappy people why they are making that decision.

He said Mike Harcourt was successful because he had a balanced approach.

“We had forest activity but we also had protected areas, had mining and had environmental assessment legislation. We need to come to conclusions not by loudest person at the protest rally but based on science and independent assessment and that’s how you should make decisions. The loudest voice can’t govern how we make our decisions.”

Horgan feels a bit separated from the roles he once played.

“I love the institution, I’m now kind of separated from it as Leader, the debate in house is going on without me, but the new challenges are enough to keep me busy. I have a big personality but recognize I can’t do all this stuff…  but I know there is a whole bunch of people I can call on, people to help me, that is critical to success.”

His life lessons have helped him to get to where is now is.

“I was raised by my single mom,  she always said, ‘give respect and you’ll get respect back, be fair and fairness will follow.’ That’s the foundation of my political philosophy.”

Horgan likened politics to team sports saying, “It’s not an individual sport this politics.”

As leader Horgan wants to bring the most out of the group and attract new candidates in places they need to win in and he is hoping to broaden the tent in the NDP.

He said what they were doing in past was not good enough and they need to change that.

“The rubber will hit the road when we come to those divisive points, we’ll have to make decisions and all agree, we all need to go that way or we will be in opposition for another four years.”

Horgan ended by saying he feels it is his job as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition Leader to bring prosperity to every corner of the province.

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