B.C. NDP leader John Horgan called a surprise election on the first day of the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, leaving him in the awkward position of assuring delegates that its main function is vital to the province’s business.
The main function is “speed dating,” hundreds of short meetings between local politicians and cabinet ministers to explain local needs for housing, forestry, education or health care. But all those NDP ministers automatically stepped down as the UBCM convention opened Monday and either retired or began campaigning to win their seats again.
A spokesman for Horgan said meetings with cabinet ministers were set up online the previous week as part of the arrangements for the virtual convention.
Horgan delivered the traditional UBCM-closing speech reserved for premiers Sept. 24, via video from Vancouver to more than 1,000 delegates who participated remotely because of COVID-19 public health restrictions.
He described chance meetings in his travels around B.C. with Vanderhoof councillor Brian Frenkel and others, some of which led to new facilities like a primary care centre in the small community west of Prince George.
“I see UBCM as a great opportunity to have those dialogues,” Horgan said. “I know, year after year it feels like speed dating. You have your 15 minutes with the minister. And I want to tell you that as a former public servant, this is critically important to the professional public service.”
Before Horgan’s speech, Frenkel accepted the role of UBCM president for the next year, taking over from Sooke Mayor Maja Tait. Frenkel gave a hint of how the sudden election call turned the convention upside down.
“I would not have known how much energy it took for UBCM staff to put this convention on,” Frenkel said in his acceptance speech. “It is an amazing thing to have an election called on a Monday, and for staff to put this together and fill the holes in the program that that election gave us.”
Instead of the traditional post-convention media scrum to discuss issues raised at the convention, Horgan’s video chat was mainly devoted to answering friendly questions from Burnaby councillor Sav Dhaliwal, a former UBCM president.