John Horgan will step down as B.C. Premier this fall, saying two bouts of cancer and 36 years in government have left him without the intensity needed to commit to another term.
Mr. Horgan made the announcement Tuesday afternoon in Vancouver, telling reporters that his most recent bout with cancer caused him to reflect on how he wanted to spend his remaining summers, and bolstered his desire to pass the torch on to the next generation.
“I’m going to be 63 this summer and I’ve been involved in public life, working in government, for 36 years,” he said. “I’ve been an MLA for 17, leader of the NDP for eight, premier for five. I don’t want to sound like a résumé here, but if you add all that up, it’s a lot of intensity.”
Mr. Horgan’s announcement follows an NDP mid-term cabinet retreat over the weekend, but the Premier said he had already made up his mind during a stroll with his wife at Otter Point, on Vancouver Island, about 10 days ago.
“Ellie and I were walking on the beach, laughing and reflecting on how many beaches we’ve walked on in our lives … and it was just a moment where we said, ‘Let’s do more of this and less of that,’ quite frankly,” he said.
Mr. Horgan said he has asked B.C. NDP president Aaron Sumexheltza to work with the provincial council and the executive to select a date in the fall for a leadership convention. Until then, the Premier said he is focused on the issue of affordability, and the impact of inflation in B.C. As well, he will remain chair of the Council of the Federation and play host to Canada’s premiers in Victoria next month to demand federal funding to resolve the staff shortages and growing waiting times in public health care.
“I fully intend to carry on that battle to make the federal government stand up for the commitments they made to all of us and convene a meeting so that we can fix the most important program in Canada,” he said.
In May, 2017, B.C. voters elected the first provincial minority government in six decades, with the Liberals winning 43 seats, one short of a majority. The NDP won 41, and the Greens three. Mr. Horgan’s New Democrats and Andrew Weaver’s Greens signed an agreement to topple Christy Clark’s Liberals, with the Greens supporting an NDP minority government and allowing it to survive a four-year term.
Mr. Horgan’s gamble to call an early election in October, 2020, paid off when his NDP swept across much of Metro Vancouver, taking ridings that have long been traditional strongholds of the right-of-centre Liberals, and returning Mr. Horgan to the legislature as premier of the first NDP majority government since 1996.
His government has held power through a series of crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, a deadly heat dome, unprecedented flooding, mounting pressure on the health care system and a toxic drug crisis that has killed thousands.
Mr. Horgan’s last news conference prior to Tuesday’s announcement was on the halting of the controversial, $789-million plan to rebuild the Royal BC Museum. The Premier stood solo as he acknowledged his government had made “the wrong decision at the wrong time,” prompting some to speculate that he was taking the hit as he prepared to leave office.
Asked about the matter on Tuesday, he said he hit the brakes on the plan because he didn’t want it to become a political football.
“I want the people who care about it to come forward, come up with a plan,” he said. “It will be a better plan than the one that we brought forward because the public has never been more aware of the museum.”
Mr. Horgan revealed last October that he had discovered a lump in his throat. He underwent a surgery and biopsy and, the following month, announced that the pathology had confirmed the lump was cancerous.
Mr. Horgan said Tuesday that he had undergone 35 radiation treatments and is now cancer-free, but that his energy flags as the days go by, leading him to conclude that he could not commit to six more years in the role.
The next provincial election is scheduled for October, 2024.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked Mr. Horgan for his many 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,” Mr. Trudeau wrote in a message posted to Twitter.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he was sorry to learn the news.
“It has been a real pleasure to work constructively with John on a range of issues,” he said in a tweet. “We come from different political traditions, but have always worked to find common ground.”
BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau said while the two have not always agreed on policy, their parties together created an era of unprecedented cross-party co-operation.
“The legacy of our confidence and supply agreement lives on as a model for the current agreement between the NDP and the Liberal Party of Canada,” Ms. Furstenau said in a statement.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said in a tweet that he received Mr. Horgan’s news with a heavy heart, calling him “the best premier British Columbia has ever had.”
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