B.C. premier John Horgan announces his retirement

The NDP’s first two-term premier will stay on as party leader until a new leader is selected.

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B.C. Premier John Horgan was with his wife, Ellie, 10 days ago, sitting on a beach off the west coast of Vancouver Island watching the otters frolic in the waves, when he made the biggest decision of his political life.

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Battling fatigue following a bout with throat cancer, Horgan, 62, told his wife that “doing a little more playing and a little less working probably isn’t a bad idea.”

Horgan shocked political observers Tuesday with the announcement that he won’t seek a third term as premier, sparking a NDP leadership race two years before the 2024 provincial election.

Horgan said while he is cancer-free following radiation treatment last December and this January, his energy is flagging, which is why he determined it is time to step back from the pressures of leading the province.

“We came to the conclusion that I’m not able to make another six-year commitment to this job,” Horgan told reporters from the Pinnacle Hotel Harbourfront in Vancouver after a two-day Cabinet retreat Monday and Tuesday. “My spouse and I just felt that it was time that I pass things on to another generation.

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“It has truly been the thrill of my life. I’ve done my best to not let you down.”

The announcement comes at a critical time for the New Democrats. Two years into their majority rule, the party is under pressure to address inflation-fuelled rising costs of living and fix the crumbling health-care system.

Several government ministers are rumoured to be considering a leadership run, including Attorney-General David Eby, Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon, Finance Minister Selina Robinson, and Minister of State for Infrastructure Bowinn Ma. Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West is also said to be considering a run.

B.C. Premier John Horgan moments before he announced that he will not be seeking re-election and that he is stepping down as party leader pending a leadership race.
B.C. Premier John Horgan moments before he announced that he will not be seeking re-election and that he is stepping down as party leader pending a leadership race. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Horgan said he was making the announcement now to “put the speculation to rest about my future and get back to talking about British Columbians and their needs.”

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Horgan will stay on as party leader until a new leader is selected. He has asked B.C. NDP president Aaron Sumexheltza to set a date in the fall for an NDP leadership vote. Horgan will stay on as MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca until the next election, thus avoiding a byelection.

The strategy allows Horgan to bow out as premier while he is still riding high in opinion polls — he’s ranked as the third-most popular premier in Canada — and gives a new leader plenty of time to build political capital before facing B.C. Liberal leader Kevin Falcon in the October 2024 election.

Former B.C. Green party leader Andrew Weaver, who struck a deal with Horgan to bring down the B.C. Liberals under Christy Clark in 2017, said Horgan showed “enormous integrity” by stepping down two years out from the provincial election.

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“I have enormous respect for him doing it the way he did,” Weaver said. “He’s ethical, he’s full of integrity, and he is honest. For the first time in a long time, we have a premier who lets British Columbians know exactly how he feels about various issues rather than saying what he knows they want to hear.”

Kahlon said in a statement on Twitter: “Today is a tough day. I’m both sad and happy for my friend.” He thanked the premier for his service to British Columbians and said the party was lucky to have had Horgan at the helm during the pandemic, wide-scale flooding, and wildfires.

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Former finance minister Carole James summed up her friend and confidant’s leadership using a sports analogy, a nod to Horgan’s love of lacrosse.

“He really is the best coach,” she said. “He knows how to bring a team together.”

As Opposition leader, Horgan would often take the bus home from the legislature to Langford, James said. When people would ask why, Horgan said it gave him a chance to talk and connect with people.

At a time when the world is more divided than ever, James said, “John has this unique ability to cross over … to be able to reach out to folks from all walks of life.”

Falcon thanked Horgan for his 17-year contribution to B.C. as an MLA.

“While we may not have always agreed on the politics, we both share a love for this province and a commitment to helping make B.C. a better place for all who call it home,” Falcon wrote on Twitter. “Live long and prosper, John,” Falcon wrote, a reference to Horgan’s love of Star Trek.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also took to Twitter to thank Horgan for his years of public service.

“From our taking ambitious climate action, to making child care more affordable, to the leadership you provided keeping people safe through COVID-19, I always appreciated working with you,” Trudeau said. “Wishing you all the best, John.”

The news comes two weeks before Horgan is set to welcome the country’s provincial and territorial leaders to Victoria at the Council of the Federation annual meeting.

Horgan, who has chaired the federation since September, said his decision to step down will not impact his ability to push Trudeau for more federal cash to shore up the crumbling health system.

Horgan fuelled speculation he would not seek a third term after taking full responsibility recently for the now-cancelled plan to replace the Royal B.C. Museum for $789 million.

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Horgan was diagnosed with throat cancer in November and took a step back from some of his duties while he completed 35 radiation sessions.

He continued to participate in Cabinet meetings virtually over the course of his treatment. Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth took on the role of deputy premier and attended in-person events on the premier’s behalf.

It was his second bout with cancer, after undergoing surgery and treatment for bladder cancer in 2008 when he was in his 40s.

Cresting on 70-per-cent approval ratings in the summer of 2020, Horgan called a snap election for October of that year, a gamble which angered some but ultimately paid off with a 57-seat majority, the largest NDP victory in B.C. history. Horgan is the first NDP leader to serve two terms as premier.

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There were signs Horgan was becoming exhausted with political life as he increasingly spoke off the cuff and deviated from prepared talking notes.

On April 25, he dropped an “F-bomb” in the Legislature during a heated exchange with Liberal MLAs. He immediately apologized, saying if his mother were still alive she would have washed his mouth out with Irish Spring soap.

Horgan has represented Langford-Juan de Fuca since 2005 and has been NDP leader since 2014.

kderosa@postmedia.com


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