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Les Leyne: Horgan quits on his own terms

He quit while it was still his choice, an adroit move
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B.C. Premier John Horgan announces he will not run in the next provincial election, during a news conference in Vancouver, on Tuesday, June 28, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Premier John Horgan announced a decision Tuesday that many leaders bumble, to their regret.

He quit early, while it was still his choice. For people with ­leadership inclinations, every year in power whets the ­appetite for more. That makes the ­inevitable end of a political career even more difficult to negotiate.

So walking away three weeks short of five years is an adroit move. (Premiers age in dog years. Five years is more like 15 or 20.) Quitting now is an example of not letting his ego get in the way of making a smart long-range decision.

The fact that he’s almost 63, has had two bouts with cancer and a case of COVID-19 on his chart and his energy is flagging makes it even smarter.

It will go a long way toward making his place in history favourably regarded. The place will be that of a regular Joe (his middle name) from Langford who took over the leadership of the NDP when no one else wanted it and finagled its biggest win ever in the 2020 election.

There were two distinct chapters in his career as B.C.’s 36th premier. After cheerfully engineering the collapse of the B.C. Liberal government following the dead-heat 2017 election, he governed artfully in a minority parliament.

Considering all the constraints (including aspects of his own personality), his government got a lot done in terms of re-ordering the priorities of the previous 16-year-old B.C. Liberal government and imposing their own.

As an opposition leader prior to that, Horgan could be prickly, sullen and combative on occasion. But those moments faded away when he moved into the premier’s office. Power brought out the best in him. It doesn’t always have that effect.

That three-year co-operative venture survived mostly on his unlikely friendship with then-B.C. Green leader Andrew Weaver. The two cordially disliked each other earlier, until circumstances jammed them together. Then they found out they got along fine.

When Weaver left, Horgan double-crossed his former Green minority partners, ignored B.C. election law and called a vote entirely for his own benefit, a fact that bothered almost no one. He won overwhelmingly.

Part Two was dealing with the biggest global catastrophe in a century, where he made another adroit decision. Faced with the need to lead a province on an hourly basis through a completely unprecedented medical crisis, he opted to stand aside and let the public health experts mostly run the show.

It paid off for B.C., and reflected well on him.

In the midst of that global drama, he had a health crisis of his own that involved 35 radiation treatments for throat cancer. Now he’s cancer-free.

“I had every intention of carrying on,” he said Tuesday. “That was my plan. I loved the work, but the cancer diagnosis and subsequent surgery and treatment was rigorous.”

After some walks on the beach with his wife, Ellie, they concluded: “Let’s do more of this and less of that.”

So he’ll vacate the premier’s office in a few months and finish his term as Langford-Juan de Fuca MLA, blissfully off the question period target list, with more time for his riding.

Horgan has instructed the party’s provincial council to arrange a fall leadership convention. So a new leader will be chosen sometime in the next five months, with the party probably taking as much time as it can. That makes for a shorter lead time than is usually taken for leadership races.

The B.C. Liberals took almost two years to change leaders after their 2020 loss. The federal Conservatives are taking seven months.

So the NDP changeover is going to happen at double-quick time. A lot of cabinet ministers are changing summer plans today as contenders start manoeuvring.

Just So You Know: Horgan was the first Vancouver Islander to be premier since the 1940s. Although it’s statistically likely B.C. will revert to picking a mainlander, Islanders should not resign themselves to that.

Sitting caucus members are the favoured pool of contenders and the NDP holds all but two of the 14 Island seats.

Five of them are in cabinet and four others hold parliamentary secretary titles.

Finally, Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon, a possible candidate, was born and raised in Victoria, even if he represents Delta North.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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