Horgan exits a popular premier, but leaves wake of criticism on housing, health care

Horgan exits a popular premier, but leaves wake of criticism on housing, health care

The BCNDP leader was consistently one of the most approved-of premiers in the country

By Shachi Kurl, President; Dave Korzinski, Research Director; & Jon Roe, Research Associate

June 28, 2022 – “I’ve done my best to not let you down. There have been days when things have gone well and there have been days when things didn’t go well. That’s the nature of the human condition, and I’m honoured to have had the opportunity.”

And so, B.C. Premier John Horgan announced his plans to step down as leader of the province in a press conference Tuesday, citing waning energy levels after his radiation treatment for throat cancer and his infection with COVID-19 earlier this year. Horgan leaves as one of the most popular premiers of his time, never dropping below 43 per cent in approval in his five years in office.

Horgan ascended to the leadership of the BCNDP after winning his third term as MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca in 2013. He replaced Adrian Dix after the NDP’s shocking defeat at the hands of Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals in the 2013 election.

Four years later, with Horgan at the helm, the NDP and the now unpopular incumbent Clark fought a tightly contested battle in the 2017 election. Horgan’s NDP party won fewer seats than Clark’s Liberals, but formed government after agreeing to a confidence-and-supply agreement with the B.C. Greens.

Two of the top issues heading into that 2017 election were health care and housing affordability. On health care, voters were divided on competing proposals between the Liberals and the NDP on the cutting or elimination of MSP premiums. Horgan followed through on the NDP’s pledge to eliminate them entirely at the beginning of 2020.

On housing, the NDP’s proposed renter’s rebate was more appealing than a competing Liberal proposal for a loan for first-time homebuyers. However, Horgan and the NDP never delivered the renter’s rebate, despite promising it multiple times.

The COVID-19 pandemic was a trying time for the province but saw a period of soaring approval for Horgan and his government. While some provincial leaders were apologizing for missteps in pandemic management, B.C.’s COVID-19 handling was among the highest praised in the country.

Support for the BCNDP climbed to as high as 50 per cent, a period Horgan deftly used to his advantage to secure a majority government with an early election call. The response to COVID-19 was one of the top issues of the 2020 election, and the BCNDP under Horgan were seen as the best option on fighting the pandemic and handling the health-care system. British Columbians also saw Horgan’s party as the best option on housing affordability, another key issue.

In the end, after what was labelled a risky election call in the midst of a pandemic, Horgan secured 57 seats in the legislature and a majority, handily defeating Andrew Wilkinson and the B.C. Liberals.

Overall, British Columbians offered plenty of praise for Horgan and his government’s handling of the pandemic. Only the Atlantic premiers received higher grades on their performance at the two-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 lockdowns:

Still, despite Horgan’s personal popularity and wide-approval of his handling of COVID-19, two issues exacerbated by the pandemic – housing affordability and health care – continue to dog the B.C. government. They remain top issues five years after Horgan became premier and British Columbians are critical of what they’ve seen on the files in recent years.

Though as recently as May, Horgan hadn’t ruled out running for a third term as premier, there was speculation in recent weeks that he would retire after fully taking on the chin the Royal B.C. Museum flop. What was dismissed by critics as a “vanity legacy project” for Horgan, the $789-million rebuild of the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria failed spectacularly in the court of public opinion, and was recently cancelled.

With many struggling with the rising cost of living, spending near $1 billion on a museum was tough for many British Columbians to swallow. Most (69%) opposed it.

Still, Horgan leaves in an unusual and privileged way for a B.C. premier: he exits the office on his own terms. Since 1970, electoral defeat, or resignation under darkening skies, has been much more common for B.C. premiers:

  • Clark (2011-2017) was ousted by Horgan and the NDP despite winning more seats in the 2017 election.
  • Gordon Campbell (2001-2011) resigned deeply unpopular and amid rumours that members of his own B.C. Liberal party were looking to show him the door.
  • Glen Clark (1996-1999), the last elected BCNDP premier before Horgan, was sunk by the Fast Ferry scandal and Casinogate. After a stint by interim premier Dan Miller (1999-2000), Clark’s replacement Ujjal Dosanjh (2000-2001) was defeated in the 2001 election.
  • BCNDP Premier Mike Harcourt (1991-1996) resigned due to allegations flowing from the Bingogate scandal, though he was later cleared of any wrongdoing.
  • Scandal also sunk Social Credit Premier Bill Vander Zalm (1986-1991). His replacement, Rita Johnson (1991), was defeated in the 1991 election.
  • In fact, to find another premier exiting on their own terms, you have to go all the way back to Social Credit Premier Bill Bennett (1975-1986), who “retired undefeated”. The scandals for Bennett came in his post political life, when he was charged with insider trading in the so-called Doman Scandal.

About ARI

The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research foundation established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.

Image – Government of British Columbia/Flickr

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