As the long line of commuters made their way onto Bus No. 61 on Thursday in downtown Victoria they were met by a familiar face and an outstretched arm.
“Welcome aboard,” the man with the boyish grin said. “I’m John Horgan.”
Yes. He’s that John Horgan: Member of the Legislative Assembly for Juan de Fuca and leader of the Loyal Opposition.
Riding the bus? “I’ve done it since about 2009, every few months,” Horgan said. “It’s one way I connect with people.”
Horgan catches the bus near his office at the B.C. legislature and rides all the way into Sooke. He then turns around and returns to his home in Langford.
“I sit on the bus and I say, ‘Hey, how are you doing.’ If they leave their ear buds in I leave them be. If they have a smile or even a frown and want to talk to me, we chew the fat,” he said.
Surprisingly, it’s not all about politics. It’s about the issues of the day, what’s up, what’s down, Sooke council, the roundabout, transit issues, even the Canucks. Oh, those Canucks.
His one-hour bus ride is kind of a fact-finding mission. He listens and hears what people are saying, and he uses the information to form his own opinions and to formulate interventions in the legislature.
Horgan has always found the experience positive and admits not everyone wants to talk to him, but in more than one instance, it has led to private meetings.
When Horgan was first elected in 2005, he would rent a hall, circulate flyers and advertise in local newspapers for a town hall meeting. Chances are, only a dozen or so people would attend and the meetings were often dominated by one or two people “who had a lot to stay.”
Horgan grew more and more frustrated by the process and looked to the bus as a way to meet up with some everyday constituents.
“So, I hopped on the bus one day and I found I was captive and they were captive. It’s been mutually beneficial, and people get their say,” he said.
He’s had some poignant moments, though.
One time, he met a young soldier in battle fatigues and he approached him. He talked for a longtime and discovered the soldier was soon heading to Afghanistan.
Several months later he came across a security guard at the B.C. legislature, who told him of his son who had returned from Afghanistan. Horgan was so happy for the man, he invited the security guard and his son to the legislature for lunch.
He was shocked when he discovered the security guard’s son was the same young soldier, he had met months earlier on the bus.
“It brought it all home for me,” Horgan said. “All these connections weave together.”
Horgan’s bus rides never include his staff and he said it’s easier to meet people now that he is the NDP leader because people recognize him. He’s not sure, though, that if he becomes premier in the future if he’ll be able to continue.
Even as NDP leader, he finds his time gobbled up. He expects that would increase twofold if he was premier.
But still, the public relations exercise is more than worthwhile.
“It’s an opportunity for me to be connected to the people I represent. And not always do I get good news. And not always do I get a pleasant smile,” Horgan said.