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

(Photo: Twitter@SurreyRCMP)
Surrey Mounties, pet owners, bracing for Halloween

Last year the Surrey RCMP received 147 fireworks complaints on Diwali and 121 on Halloween

Although B.C. has not made masks mandatory in public indoor spaces, some business owners are requiring all customers to wear them before entering their store. (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media photo)
Delta urging residents do their part to help stop the spread of COVID-19

“We all know what we need to do as a community to push the curve back down,” said Mayor George Harvie

Pixabay image
OUR VIEW: Grow up and join the fight against COVID-19 in Surrey

All of us in Surrey need to ask ourselves if we are on the right side of the fight against COVID-19, or are we not

partial graphic used in "Get Serious" campaign by Surrey business groups.
‘Get Serious’ message about COVID pushed by Surrey business groups fearing ‘economic shutdown’

‘Different social media messages will be sent out daily with significant messaging…’

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps by 287, another senior home outbreak

Two more deaths recorded, community outbreak in Okanagan

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
Rescued bald eagle that came to life in B.C. man’s car had lead poisoning

Bird is on medication and recovering in rehab centre

Janet Austin, lieutenant governor of B.C., was presented with the first poppy of the Royal Canadian Legion’s 2020 Poppy Campaign on Wednesday. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
PHOTOS: B.C. Lieutenant Governor receives first poppy to kick off 2020 campaign

Janet Austin ‘honour and a privileged’ to receive the poppy

Stock photo
Pair’s lawsuit dismissed against Fraser Valley soccer association and churches

Judge in Abbotsford calls claims against 14 defendants ‘an abuse of the court’s process’

Premier-elect John Horgan and cabinet ministers are sworn in for the first time at Government House in Victoria, July 18, 2017. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)
Pandemic payments have to wait for B.C. vote count, swearing-in

Small businesses advised to apply even if they don’t qualify

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The B.C. Teacher Regulation Branch has issued a decision about the actions of an elementary school teacher in Langley. (Langley Advance Times files)
Langley elementary teacher suspended for grabbing, shoving, yelling at kids

Roxann Rojas will lose her legal authority to teach for two weeks from Oct. 25 to Nov. 7, 2020

A raccoon paid a visit to a Toronto Tim Hortons on Oct. 22, 2020. (shecallsmedrew/Twitter)
Who are you calling a trash panda? Raccoon takes a shift at Toronto Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons said animal control was called as soon they saw the surprise visitor

Lawrence Nadessan, 44, was last seen on Oct. 24 at 11:30 p.m. in Maple Ridge.
Maple Ridge man missing since Saturday is extremely out of character, family says

Cameras saw him leaving home, not dressed for the weather

Most Read