NDP Leader John Horgan pauses while speaking during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., Friday, Sept. 25, 2020. Horgan said the struggles of his childhood, watching his mother build the family and his bout with bladder cancer in his 40s, helped forge his political aims of making life better for people. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Childhood lessons, fight with cancer helped John Horgan forge political goals

Struggles of Horgan’s childhood and a bout with bladder cancer helped forge his political goals

An Indigenous leader says John Horgan would often use a joke to ease tensions during difficult times in talks over the future of fish farms between groups with different interests in British Columbia.

Bob Chamberlin says the NDP leader was willing to listen, but he stood firm when he needed to.

“I respected that,” said Chamberlin, a former vice-president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs who helped develop the joint fish farm policy with industry, Indigenous groups and Horgan’s New Democrats when the party was in Opposition and in government.

“It wasn’t like he was trying to make friends with myself,” said Chamberlin, who has run unsuccessfully as a candidate for the federal NDP. “I could tell he heard me very clearly. He acknowledged it, but he was also very keen and aware of the responsibilities he would hold.”

In a recent interview, Horgan said he didn’t accept responsibility naturally, describing himself as a poor student in high school who would often skip classes to shoot pool or hang out in downtown Victoria. He said he was heading for trouble as a teen before his basketball coach took him aside and warned him to take life more seriously.

“I do my homework now,” Horgan said. “At the time many of my teachers, who are big supporters now, helped me get through despite my best efforts not to get through.”

Horgan’s father, Pat, died of a brain aneurysm when Horgan was 18 months old and his mother, Alice, raised four children on her own. Sometimes food hampers were delivered to the home, he said.

Horgan said the struggles of his childhood and a bout with bladder cancer in his 40s helped forge his political goals.

“It all involves bringing people together and what I’ve tried to do in the 3 1/2 years I’ve had the opportunity, is to reach out to everyone, business people, not-for-profits, labour, just regular folks, and ask them what they want to see in their government, and I think it’s worked,” he said.

Horgan and his wife Ellie have two grown sons, Nate and Evan. Horgan met his wife while they were students at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont.

The 61-year-old politician was acclaimed NDP leader in 2014 following the party’s election defeat in 2013 when a 20 percentage point lead evaporated and the campaign ended with a majority B.C. Liberal government.

In 2017, the NDP was able to form a minority government after reaching an agreement with the Green party, which held the balance of power.

Horgan said he struggled with his decision to call the early Oct. 24 election during the COVID-19 pandemic, but he wanted to seek the stability of a majority government and was convinced the election could be held safely. B.C.’s fixed election date was set for October 2021.

He said he would rather be meeting voters on public transit or at hockey rinks, but the pandemic has changed that.

“Although the Zoom calls are great … I don’t get that connect that I would have if I was able to sit down with them and just listen one on one,” Horgan said.

Prof. Kimberly Speers said Horgan has become more at ease as communicator over the years.

“He’s always very comfortable in terms of chatting with anyone,” said Speers, who teaches at the University of Victoria’s school of public administration. “I think he’s even honed that skill even more.”

Horgan’s time as premier in a minority government may also have helped his leadership abilities, she said.

“Given that it’s a minority government situation, he’s had to negotiate and listen, reach consensus on issues during the last three years,” Speers said. “Just in terms of negotiating skills, building consensus, I think he’s done a very good job.”

Speers said despite being political opposites, she sees style similarities between Horgan and former populist premier Ralph Klein of Alberta.

“He’s relatable, easy to talk to and not condescending,” said Speers, who taught in Alberta.

Chamberlin said Horgan’s leadership qualities shone through last year when the B.C. government passed legislation adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“If you look across Canada and you look for a government that stood up and made a very clear decision to implement UNDRIP, you’ll only find premier Horgan.”

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

BC politicsBC Votes 2020

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The car was trapped, with its driver inside, in a ditch off Hirsch Creek Main near Onion Lake overnight Monday (Oct. 19). Oct. 20, 2020. Kitimat RCMP photo.
Man found after spending overnight stuck in car in a ditch near Onion Lake

Kitimat RCMP said the man was stuck there overnight for about 10 hours

FILE - Nathan Cullen speaks to media in Smithers, B.C., Friday, February 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
More calls come in for Cullen’s removal as NDP candidate

Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs demand Cullen’s removal. Ellis says, There’s no place in B.C. for racism

Martin Holzbauer, independent, Nicole Halbauer, BC NDP, and Ellis Ross, BC Liberal Party, are the candidates for the Skeena riding in the upcoming provincial election. (Terrace Standard/BC NDP)
Skeena candidates talk northwest education

Online learning access and early childhood education were common themes

Stikine provincial election candidates (clockwise from top left): Nathan Cullen, NDP; Darcy Repen, Rural BC Party; Rod Taylor, Christian Heritage; and Gordon Sebastian, BC Liberals.
‘Where is Annita McPhee?’: Cullen under fire from opening salvo of all-candidates forum

Four Stikine candidates spar during online debate from Prestige Hudson Bay Lodge in Smithers

David Block, director of development services for the City of Terrace, explains City staff’s new approach to bylaw and official community plan amendments associated with the proposed inland port development. (Jake Wray/Terrace Standard)
City of Terrace changes approach to inland port development process

Keith Estates Neighbourhood Concept Plan to be dealt with separately

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of decades-old plane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of Sts’ailes Community School students helped discover the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bear kills llama on Vancouver Island, prompting concerns over livestock

Officers could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students in the classroom. He was one of two fathers who filed a court application in August to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections weren’t in place. That application was dismissed last week. (Contributed photo)
B.C. dad pledges to appeal quashed call for mandatory masks, distancing in schools

Bernard Trest and Gary Shuster challenged health, education ministries’ return-to-school plan

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
RCMP cleared in fatal shooting of armed Lytton man in distress, police watchdog finds

IIO spoke to seven civillian witnesses and 11 police officers in coming to its decision

A 34-year-old man was treated for a gunshot wound in Williams Lake Monday, Oct 19, 2020. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake man treated for gunshot wound after accidental shooting: RCMP

Police are reminding residents to ensure firearms are not loaded when handling them

Most Read