A former civil servant and well-versed in Canadian history, John Horgan shows himself an able administrator
by Bruce Mason
He says he’s a regular guy who’s lived at the end of the street for 25 years, and he’s gotten to know his neighbours well. He’s raised two sons with Ellie, his wife of 33 years. He’s also a cancer survivor.
Far too many people still don’t know his name, let alone what he stands for.
John Horgan – Juan de Fuca MLA and NDP Provincial Party leader – often parks his Prius to ride the #61 bus from the Legislature to Sooke, a one-hour and 40 minute, animated, intimate journey home. He calls it his “mobile town-hall, with constituents.”
He’s Irish, a talker who likes to laugh, but who also listens intensely. His eyes glint passion and hint anger at BC Liberals. “They’re arrogant, they’re smug, they believe everything they say and do is correct, a real danger in a democratic society. After 16 years of failure, it’s time for real change.”
The man I met is as rock-solid as his warm handshake, quick-footed in his encyclopaedic grasp of issues and clear-eyed in his perspective on real-life problems and solutions.
Personally, I’m hopeful John Horgan will head a new government, based primarily on a fast-paced, jam-packed, in-depth interview that stands out in my 35+ years in journalism. “Who’s the BC NDP leader?” “What’s John Horgan stand for?” The answers are easy and surprising, especially if you shut off widespread cynicism. Suspend false impressions from shameful, corrupt multimillion-dollar government and attack ads. Put aside misconceptions of NDP financial ineptitude. Above all, drop the biggest, saddest of all, mistaken beliefs: that your vote won’t make a huge difference in your own life and the province on May 9.
Horgan has been aptly described (Globe and Mail) as the “polar opposite of Christy Clark.” She paints him as “spineless, with no backbone,” which is, typically, far from reality. The man I met is as rock-solid as his warm handshake, quick-footed in his encyclopaedic grasp of issues, clear-eyed in his perspective on real-life problems and solutions.
It’s difficult not to think of him as Honest John, a Bernie Sanders, to Clark’s self-confessed Donald J. Trump, with values and “public service” to match.
Like Bernie, John has a long, proud history of fighting for the “little guy.” A civil servant in the NDP Harcourt government (1991-1996), he took on tough files, including the Columbia River US Treaty and balancing land use and First Nation treaties. “I threw him into some deep ends of pools,” recalls his former boss. “John knows the province and has a tremendous amount of experience.”
Horgan became a highly popular and effective MLA in 2005. Very active behind the scenes, off corporate media’s faulty radar, he introduced private member bills to require the legislature to convene in spring and fall, to reform standing committees with proportional representation and conflict of interest amendments. He’s striven for fair taxes, including carbon taxes on exempted, industrial emitters, and to get the Evergreen Line and light rail built. He recommended implementing aquaculture restrictions, fought to ban North Coast tanker traffic and offshore oil exploration and pushed for an Endangered Species Act.
When MLA salaries increased 29% (2007), he and NDP members donated their raises to hospices, food banks and other charities, for the session. On six occasions, he’s tried to take big money out of politics, a hot-button election issue. And he is honestly committed to changing the electoral system so every vote counts.
Horgan was a baby when his father died one Christmas Eve, shortly after inviting the world-renowned Harlem Globetrotters to the family home. They passed the infant Horgan around like a basketball. John’s been a jock ever since and thinks Clark would have benefited from playing competitive team sports.
Also, unlike Christy, who left SFU empty handed after cheating in a student election, John earned degrees from Trent in Ontario and Sydney University (Masters, history) in Australia, while playing varsity basketball on both campuses. “I’ve studied Canadian history up and down and all ways to Sunday,” he says. He credits the single mother who raised him and three siblings and an inspiring conversation with Tommy Douglas as foundational role models.
Once an at-risk teenager, he benefited first-hand from teachers and social services. Horgan, now 57, has driven delivery trucks and pulled lumber in a planer mill; a former plasterer’s helper, he still mixes cement to make rock walls. He works on old furniture, plays disc golf, darts and is a big-time Star Trek fan. He even sought an extra’s role when it was shooting in Vancouver. A Starship Enterprise model sits in his Vancouver office and a jar of tar-sand dilbit on his desk in Victoria.
My favourite, little-known John Horgan fact: he’s colour blind. On a BC road trip with Ellie, he had difficulty distinguishing dead, red trees, devastated by pine beetles and green living trees, temporarily spared. As they began to count and compare them numerically, Horgan saw the forest for the trees and began to evolve from a pro-energy advocate to a passionate climate activist. His climate plan has been embraced and supported as ‘real action’ by the likes of Tzeporah Berman, SFU’s Mark Jaccard and the Pembina Institute. Many prefer it to the spotty Green platform.
“Say anything John,” the ugly cheap shot from Stephen Harper and associates is actually a compliment, considering the source. Building consensus and representing people is slower than fixating on the filthy rich.
For real change in BC, let’s elect John Horgan and his team on May 9. We need and deserve a better BC.