John Horgan remembers the moment he decided to enter public life. He was sitting in his front of his TV watching Global News and — as people sometimes do when watching the evening news — he found himself yelling at the screen.
Horgan said he was watching a 2004 Global News story about a BC Ferries plan to have vessels built in Germany and he couldn’t contain his outrage.
One of his teenage son’s friends asked him what he was so upset about and he said, “These stupid people are building ferries somewhere else when we could be creating jobs here.”
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The teenager then issued Horgan a challenge.
“This 15-year-old put me on the spot and said, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ And I thought, well, I’m going to run for office and you’re going to help me.”
More than a decade later, Horgan is leading a BC NDP party that hopes to unseat a Liberal government that has ruled the province for most of this century.
With the provincial election just months away, many British Columbians still don’t know much about the man who wants to be the province’s next premier.
“I think that elections are an opportunity to introduce yourself to people,” Horgan said. “Between elections most people are just struggling to get by. That’s the big challenge in B.C over the past number of years. People are working paycheque to paycheque. They’re focused on themselves and their families and their communities and the long commutes and the challenges that they face.”
With the election looming, B.C. businesses have spent money on attack ads that they hope will shape the public’s perception of the NDP leader. A number of industry leaders, primarily from the natural resource and hospitality sectors, have launched an anti-Horgan ad that claims there is a schism within the party between environmental interests and union leaders.
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“I think that because the BC Liberals are swimming in cash and their friends are swimming in cash, they’re going to spend a lot of money trying to tell people who I am and what I stand for,” Horgan said.
“And my challenge is to go up against that big money and make the case that I’m a regular guy. I’m just like everyone else out there and I want to work for them. I’m not with the wealthy and the well-connected. I’m not with the people at the top. I’m a regular person that lives at the end of the street. I’ve been there for 25 years. I raised my kids there. I know my neighbours.”
Horgan says that the conversations that he has with his neighbours and with the people he meets while commuting to work on the bus each day have helped him understand the issues that truly matter to British Columbians.
“My responsibility as the leader of the NDP is to make sure that the B.C. interest is protected,” he said. “I don’t believe that the Kinder Morgan pipeline is in the best interest of British Columbia.”
“I think there’s a whole bunch of other things we can do to create jobs in British Columbia, like all of the activity that’s happening in the Lower Mainland right now — manufacturing, film, high tech, information technology, the list goes on and on about what’s happening here in the Lower Mainland, none of which was a focus by the BC Liberals.
“In fact, it’s happening almost organically because of the innovative nature and the dynamism of our population here in the Lower Mainland.
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“We need to do something about the challenges in rural British Columbia. I acknowledge that. But the solutions the Liberals have been putting forward have been ineffective and I need to make sure that the public understands that when we go into the next election.
“The Liberals want me in a box that says ‘no.’ I want to be in a box that says, ‘What can we do to make B.C. better?’ That’s my plan and that’s going to be my focus.”
Another key issue, he says, is housing affordability, saying that the province “can’t sustain an economy on a real estate bubble.”
He also asks why B.C. is “the only province in the country that has medical services premiums?”
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“Why haven’t we been able in British Columbia to figure out a way to fund our health system without having this flat tax that the richest people pay the same as the poorest people? It makes no sense to the people that I talk to and it makes no sense to me.
“When we look around and we see no LNG, we see hydro rates out of control, debt continuing to spiral away, schools underfunded, classes overcrowded, portables popping up like mushrooms in our fast-growing communities, I think that’s a record of failure and it’s time for a change.
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“I want to make sure that the government of B.C. is doing everything it can to make life better for people. I don’t see that today and I haven’t seen that since I was yelling at my television set.”
– With files from Sophie Lui
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