One-on-one with Premier John Horgan

By Shannon Waters December 21, 2020

It’s been a long time since B.C. had a good day when it comes to the Covid pandemic, according to Premier John Horgan.

He characterized a good day as one “where there are no fatalities.” November 5 was the last day B.C. reported no Covid deaths.

Despite rising case numbers and hundreds of deaths over the past six weeks, the premier has said B.C. has “been successful” in its handling of the pandemic and in a year-end interview with BC Today expressed his frustration with criticism of the province’s response.

“This is not just happening in isolation — this is happening internationally everywhere,” Horgan said.

Early last week, B.C. had more active Covid cases per capita than both Quebec and Ontario but fewer than Alberta. Horgan compared B.C.’s Covid situation with the neighbouring Prairie province and Washington State to the south.

“Both of them [have been] decimated by case counts — we are dwarfed by what’s happening there,” he said. “In the past seven days, there have been 7,000 more cases in Alberta than there have been here. I would characterize that as better than my neighbour.”

“Is it successful? Absolutely not,” he said of B.C.’s response.

He also defended the province’s public data reporting as “appropriate” during the pandemic.

“We give information to people that they need so they can protect themselves,” he told BC Today. “The notion that we need to point to the individuals and small communities so they can be stigmatized because they’re ill is not in anyone’s interest.”

B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry shares Horgan’s concerns that releasing Covid case data by community or neighbourhood — as some other Canadian jurisdictions do — could lead to their residents being shunned or stigmatized. But First Nations leaders and B.C. mayors have argued they need more information in order to properly protect their citizens.

Premier plans to make good use of months before house reconvenes
It will be two full months into the new year before the legislature resumes, and interim Liberal Leader Shirley Bond has criticized the NDP for doing little during the December session. But Horgan maintains the NDP government can implement some of its campaign promises before the house reconvenes on March 1.

Besides the recovery benefit, that starts with capping fees that food delivery apps charge restaurants — something the Liberals also promised to do during the campaign and proposed to realize via legislation introduced earlier this month.

“We’re going to be taking action on the delivery apps next week,” Horgan said Friday. “[Public Safety] Minister [Mike] Farnworth is on that.”

January and February will be spent crafting the “extraordinary” Budget 2021, which will need to find room for at least a few of the NDP’s campaign promises — including amped-up spending on child care, housing and health care.

“We’ll use that time effectively to make sure that the programs that we have announced are ready to go,” Horgan told BC Today. “We’re going to use that time to make sure that we have appropriate resources in our post-secondary sector to deliver the training programs that we’re going to need to hire the health-care workers that are going to help us revitalize our long-term care facilities.”

Horgan said he is relying on David Eby, the dually tasked attorney general and housing minister, to find solutions to B.C.’s housing and homelessness crisis with a focus on “encampments in the Lower Mainland on [Vancouver] Island.”

Horgan hailed Eby’s “abundance of energy to solve challenges,” including encouraging results at ICBC logged in the fiscal update last week. That bodes well for the next budget, per Horgan.

“We are not looking to the well to find another billion dollars to fill a hole at ICBC, which seemed to be a quarterly occurrence from about 2017 until this time,” he said.

As for those who continue to criticize Horgan’s snap election call and somewhat leisurely return to legislative priorities, the NDP premier was dismissive.

“The objective of the election was to provide stability to the government,” he said. “I made my rationale clear. Ultimately — although pundits may have had a different [view] and continue, inexplicably, to have a different view on that matter — the public spoke fairly clearly and decisively on how they felt about it.”