British Columbia·Analysis

'I'll have more to say': B.C. Premier John Horgan fuels speculation over his future in CBC interview

B.C. Premier John Horgan’s comments simply confirmed what many have believed for some time: he’s not sure whether he wants to stay in office, and is seriously considering an exit strategy.

Announcing an exit plan this summer would allow time for a successor to make their mark before an election

B.C. Premier John Horgan attends his weekly news conference in Victoria in March. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

In British Columbia's often tumultuous political history, it's been 36 years since a premier stepped away from power without facing defeat, serious scandal or an internal party revolt. 

It's difficult for any leader to leave without being pushed out. 

But it could happen again in B.C. very soon. 

"We have a cabinet retreat next week in Vancouver," said John Horgan, when asked bluntly by CBC's On The Island's Gregor Cragie if he was planning on continuing as premier for the rest of his term. 

"We're plotting and planning and preparing for the next two years. And so I'll have more to say about that as we come out of those meetings."

The fact Horgan didn't say "no" to a straightforward question about his political future immediately set off speculation, for obvious reasons. 

It was the widest he's kept the door open to the idea of stepping down before the next provincial election, currently scheduled for 2024. 

But the truth is, Horgan's comments simply confirmed what many have believed for some time: he's not sure whether he wants to stay in office, and is seriously considering an exit strategy.

NDP Leader John Horgan speaks after a historic election victory in 2020, the first election in the province's history where the NDP received the most votes and there wasn't a significant split between several centre-right parties. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Decision rests with him

Such chatter began in earnest during the summer of 2021, as the province was in the midst of a second year in the pandemic and battling another massive wildfire season.

Horgan was less than a year past winning a historic majority government, becoming the first NDP leader to become a two-term premier. 

But many people inside the legislature and big city halls began getting the impression that he was unsure if he wanted to become a three-term premier, even before his cancer diagnosis.

"It's not a big surprise," said University of British Columbia political scientist Gerald Baier.

"He's been in power for four or five years, through some of the toughest conditions for governing that we could imagine in the last half century … he's just come off cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery. You might well say, 'Well, it's time to think about the future.'"

Horgan continues to have more or less complete confidence of the NDP caucus. And based on polls, he's still among the most popular politicians in the country, despite a recent dip in approval ratings.

As a result, there's been virtually no internal pressure for him to leave. 

Horgan is silhouetted against a reflector as he addresses the media during a 2020 election campaign stop. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

Setting up a strong succession

But as Baier noted, that means Horgan has the political capital and electoral time to consider an ideal exit strategy. 

"He's seen other premiers maybe outstay their welcome. And he's a very loyal person to his party. He's very interested in the success of his party. And he cares about the province, I think, genuinely," said Baier.

"And so you could see him feeling that he's reached maybe not a peak, but certainly he is close to firing on all engines, so to speak, and sort of getting out while he's ahead."

If Horgan announced an exit plan at some point this summer before the fall session of the legislature, it would allow the NDP to have a long leadership race to decide on a successor, while also giving that successor enough time to make a mark as premier before an election is required. 

He could also choose to continue without making a firm commitment to the future. But at this point, what had previously been mostly private speculation and gossip would likely become increasingly public. 

Either way, the last time Horgan held a press conference, it was to announce a pause on the plans to rebuild the Royal B.C. Museum for $700 million.

"His admission that it was sort of the buck stops with him … it's the kind of thing that a politician who has some capital to burn is ready to do," said Baier.

"He's trying not to burden the next generation of leadership within the NDP necessarily with that decision."

Given his statement on Friday, the next time Horgan holds a press conference, it's quite possible his announcement will have even bigger ramifications. 

LISTEN | B.C. Premier John Horgan on his future in government

Gregor Craigie spoke with Premier John Horgan about the decision to not go ahead with a new RBCM building, the cost of inflation, and his future in politics.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.

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