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

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

Investigators placed dozens of yellow evidence markers on the ground near the site of a fatal shooting in Langley City early Wednesday morning. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
UPDATE: 22-year-old man killed in targeted shooting in Langley

South Surrey vehicle fire may be linked to homicide: police

Abbotsford Police is investigating after bullet casings were found following a shots fired call at the intersection of Purcell Avenue and Wells Gray Avenue on Tuesday night. (File photo)
Bullet casings found after shots-fired call in Abbotsford on Tuesday

Abbotsford Police Department seeking witnesses and CCTV footage following shooting

Some of the fake gold sold by con artists in B.C. RCMP said there have been reports of the scam in Richmond, Coquitlam, Burnaby, Langley and New Westminster from Jan. 17 through Jan. 22 (RCMP)
‘Dubai gold’ scam is back in Langley and the Lower Mainland

If someone offers to sell gold jewelry at a bargain, it’s probably fake, police warn

Jack Nicholson (left) presented a cheque in 2020 for the Co-op Community Spaces Grants for local community projects across Western Canada/ (Sean Weatherly/Special to The Star)
Co-op Community Spaces is investing $1 million to fund community projects

Non-profits and registered charities can apply between Feb. 1 and March 1 for funding opportunities

Langley City Coun. Gayle Martin was ‘appalled’ by Cloverdale-Langley City MP Tamara Jansen’s Commons comment calling the city a ‘ghost town’ (file)
VIDEO: Langley council presses MP to explain ‘ghost town’ comment

Response by Cloverdale-Langley City Conservative MP Tamara Jansen failed to answer question: Martin

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at B.C. legislature on the province’s mass vaccination plan for COVID-19, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
COVID-19 quarantine not an option for B.C., John Horgan says

Apres-ski parties increase risk, not interprovincial travel

Worker at Swartz Bay terminal on Monday, January 20, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Former BC Ferries employee alleges he was fired because of his race

Imraan Goondiwala has been granted a BC Human Rights Tribunal hearing

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker have been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
B.C. couple who travelled to Yukon for COVID vaccine ineligible for 2nd dose until summer

Health officials planning new measures to ensure people verify where they live before inoculation

(File)
Mask dispute in court leaves Vancouver cop with broken leg

Man allegedly refused to put on a mask and resisted arrest

(Kraft Dinner/Twitter)
Kraft Dinner launches candy-flavoured mac and cheese just in time for Valentine’s Day

Sweet and cheesy treat will be here just in time for the cheesiest holiday of the year

SAR crews worked late into the night Tuesday to rescue an injured snowboarder in North Vancouver. (Facebook/North Shore Rescue)
Complicated, dangerous rescue saves man in avalanche near Cypress Mountain

North Shore SAR team braves considerable conditions to reach injured snowboarder

Most Read