Snakebit - The Orca


Maclean Kay

After three unforced errors, and a cancelled weekly media availability at a sensitive time: Premier John Horgan has had a rough July.

Is John Horgan in a slump?

Three weeks in a row, the Premier made an unforced error. First, it was referring to addiction as starting with “a choice, initially,” which he later withdrew and apologized for. Then, he mused about “opportunities” for an early election, raising eyebrows across the province, not least with his bewildered Green partners.

On Monday, he completed the trifecta, saying people being harassed with out-of-province license plates should get BC plates, ride a bike, or take a bus – an odd lapse into victim-blaming. Had it come from a rival politician, it’s not hard to picture Horgan expertly pouncing on the mistake.

Any one of these stumbles would have passed into the memory hole within a couple of days. Two back-to-back was remarkable. But then three – and ditching the next press conference? Unusual in the extreme.

On Wednesday, his office cancelled the next day’s scheduled weekly media availability just six hours after announcing it, citing a scheduling conflict. It would have been the Premier’s first opportunity to comment on province’s back to school plan – and the BCTF’s negative reaction to it, a delicate situation for the NDP.

For lack of a better word, this is weird. Usually, Horgan is the ringer sent into just such delicate situations.

Arguably, ever since famously reining in his temper between debates in the 2017 election campaign, Horgan has been the NDP’s single greatest strength: likeable, personable, able to communicate to the back and front row at the same time. If he hadn’t been leader in 2017, it’s hard to see which of the likely substitutes would have done better.

What’s more, being in government has suited him. This isn’t a new or unique observation; Horgan has commented several times he believes he’s better psychologically and emotionally suited to government than opposition. Yes, everyone is supposed to say that – nobody plans to be in opposition – but it’s more than that; they require two very different mindsets. Not everyone is suited to either or both.

So what’s going on?

There’s every chance this stretch of foot-in-mouth disease is just bad luck. Being in charge during a pandemic can only be exhausting; simply being tired would be understandable.

But while the past three weeks have been unusual, you wouldn’t necessarily call it out of character.

Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer characterized Horgan’s remarks as “provocative.” I think that’s accurate, and Horgan does seem to get more provocative when stressed or frustrated. New job or not, this is still the same person whose temper boiled over at one now-legendary press conference, taking ill-advised shots at reporters, and even one observing BC Liberal staffer.

Horgan does seem more pugnacious lately – I didn’t even mention his very pointed shots at Victoria’s city council – and even if it’s just temporary, it’s something to keep an eye on.

For the NDP, the good news is that this is unusual. And if bad things really do come in threes, they’re safe for a while. If not, BC politics will keep heating up.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca