Why John Horgan got scrappy in the B.C. election debate - Macleans.ca

Why John Horgan got scrappy in the B.C. election debate

NDP leader’s shots at ‘Calm’ Christy Clark signalled B.C.’s return to bare-knuckle politics

Horgan wasn't hiding his disdain for Clark during Thursday's debate

Horgan showed mocking disdain for Clark throughout Thursday’s debate (CityTv, News1130)

You only get one chance at a first impression, the old saying goes, and the B.C. NDP’s John Horgan—a leader almost half the province could not name in a poll 10 days ago—came out with his fists flying at Thursday’s leaders’ debate. It’s the first of the B.C. election, and for many British Columbians will serve as their introduction to Horgan. The tone set by the tough talking, 57-year-old MLA, raised working class on Vancouver Island by his widowed mom, mirrors the NDP campaign, so far. It marks a return to old-school, bare-knuckled B.C. politics, after the previous NDP leader chose to fight a “positive campaign” in 2013—with disastrous results. For a stretch toward the end of the radio debate, broadcast live this morning on Vancouver’s NEWS1130, Horgan and Premier Christy Clark, who sit barely 10 feet apart in the legislature in Victoria, could not bear to look at one another. Though Clark managed to keep her cool throughout, grinning like a Cheshire cat as she and Horgan traded barbs, the animosity was palpable. It’s not even Day 10.

RELATED: Watch the B.C. leaders debate: VIDEO

Debates are high-risk, high-reward events—for Horgan, especially: this election is Clark’s to lose. And fights like these can be decided on tone, and body language. Going in, Clark, a one-time Vancouver radio host whose megawatt smile can somehow conveys intimacy, emotion, intensity all at once, clearly held the upper hand. Her weakness may be a propensity to put her foot in her mouth and a reluctance to own up to mistakes (case in point: her recent, baseless accusation that the NDP hacked the Liberal website, for which she was eventually forced to apologize, which she did over voicemail). But when it comes to retail politics, she’s among the country’s best.

So make no mistake: Horgan’s aggression, and the merciless, rat-a-tat punches that took aim, again and again, at the Clark record, were no accident; they were meant to reflect the NDP’s take-no-prisoners approach to the campaign.

In the last battle, the premier treated Adrian Dix, the party’s previous leader, like a cat with a toy mouse, batting him around throughout the campaign (at times, it was almost uncomfortable to watch). In Horgan, however, the NDP know they’ve got a pugilist, whose rage over the political power of money he feels has infected the province comes from deep within, and is as real as it is raw. The NDP is clearly trying to channel that fury, to show voters, particularly those struggling to make ends meet in the Lower Mainland—a region with the country’s most expensive housing, in a province with some of Canada’s lowest salaries—that Horgan is on their side, that he’s willing to overturn a system he feels benefit Liberal donors at the expense of regular British Columbians. Clark showed Dix no mercy four years ago. Horgan seems to be out to return the favour. But will it work?

RELATED: Does John Horgan have the stuff to beat Christy Clark? 

In debates, Clark doesn’t need to play offence. Indeed, as the odds-on favourite on May 9, she needs to avoid taking risks. This means holding back a little, and not giving Horgan the opportunity to get lucky and trip her up. Debates, as she knows, are more often lost than won (Green Party leader Andrew Weaver might have “lost” in this debate, for instance, merely because the Horgan-Clark fireworks monopolized centre stage).

In the legislature, as a rookie leader, there were times Horgan allowed Clark to bait him. She was taunting the Opposition leader again on Thursday, attempting to get him to take a few reckless swings. She’d throw out a blatant falsehood about the NDP platform—“alternate facts,” Horgan sputtered at one point—then sit back as the NDP leader shouted over her. When Horgan complained the host, veteran local broadcaster Bill Good he was allowing Clark more time, she turned to him: “Calm down John,” she said, not without condescension, patting the NDP leader on the arm. “Don’t touch me again, please,” he replied.

Yet Horgan’s weakness may also be his strength. Where some see anger, others see passion. Voters rarely see a full debate. They watch it in clips on their Facebook feeds and the nightly news. The point of it all is to make yourself look strong and nimble.

And there were times Clark’s attacks fell flat. In her defence, the party has given her little to work with. The stale and hackneyed Liberal platform, an exhaustive celebration of the government record, contains almost no new promises; this has forced her to try to fight back using the tired, Liberal strategy of drumming up fear over the NDP’s mid-‘90’s record. “It’s April, 2017,” Horgan said at one point, shutting down the attack. “What are you going to do for people today?”


Why John Horgan got scrappy in the B.C. election debate

  1. Many times John Horgan wiped the smirk off Premier Photo-Op’s face.
    He spoke of the very real affordability issues from the obscene increase in the cost of housing – for purchase or rent in both the Lower Mainland and most of Vancouver Island – and the Liberal record of large annual increases in BC ferries fares, and increased BC Hydro (28% in last 4 years), ICBC (4% annually) and the regressive Medical Services Premiums (doubled during the 16 year Liberal regime e.g. now over $1,600 for a senior couple with an income over $32 thousand – and the same sum if a coup[le have an income of $400 thousand annually!).
    The Green leader had to be silent on the issue of increased fares and rates because in both the 2013 and 2014 budgets he voted confidence in the BC Liberal regressive budgets!
    Despite the $12 million plus donated to the Liberals by corporations ( including Malaysian, Chinese and US firms!) there is a feeling of change in the air.
    The leaders’ tv debate next week may well tell whether the momentum for change surges or diminishes.

  2. In this current campaign Andrew Weaver – my MLA and Green party leader – claims we constituents should look at his track record. His record is that he voted for the 2013 and 2014 BC Liberal government budgets that raised BC Ferries fares and cut coastal service, and raised rates of BC Hydro, ICBC, and Medical Service premiums . These increased costs of public services have greatly added to the unaffordability of BC life which many citizens have had to grapple with over the past four years.

    Mr Weaver provided – in an exchange of letters to editor with me – three reasons why he voted for the regressive BC Liberal budgets that made life less affordable not only in his own Island riding but also across the province.

    First, he claimed that the “the motion on which I voted was deemed to be a confidence motion in the government. Were the motion to fail (for example in the case of a minority government), we would be heading into another general election.” Yet this concern was irrelevant as the government was elected with a handy majority and there was absolutely no chance of the motion failing!

    Second he stated that “ the BC Liberals proposed the same budget prior to the election and got re-elected. BC voters had an opportunity to elect another party but chose to re-elect the Liberals for four more years. I felt it was important to support British Columbians in this regard.” But 70% of those Oak Bay – Gordon Head citizens who voted, voted against the Liberals and their pre-election budget – and the Green policy book says Green MLA’s will represent the views of their constituents!

    Finally, he concluded that” I feel I better serve the constituents of Oak Basy-Gordon Head and the citizens of BC by supporting the overall budget, thereby showing confidence in the newly elected government, while continuing to raise concerns about the aspects I find troublesome.”

    Increased BC Ferries fares that harmed Island and coastal communities, and major increases in BC Hydro, ICBC and Medical Service Premiums were not “troublesome” to Mr. Weaver? They certainly were “troublesome” for many pensioners, and the growing numbers of British Columbians who joined the working poor!

    Mr. Weaver went on the next year to vote for the regressive BC Liberal budget that once again increased ferry, hydro, ICBC and MSP rates and cut the capacity of government to monitor environmental standards, and inadequately funded an already over-strained health care system!

    Mr Weaver is accountable to those of us in his riding – and now to British Columbians as Green party leader – for his record of voting confidence for two long years in a BC Liberal government that not only increased a growing financial burden on hard working citizens but also on numerous occasions rejected the NDP bills to ban both corporate and union donations while massive donations from both foreign and Alberta corporations to the Liberal party have increased.

    • Both NDP and Liberal make me ill so I am going for my local independent who at least has integrity and foresight. He may not have a chance but neither does the green party.