British Columbia

John Horgan wants your dad jokes — but also your personal information

If the leader of British Columbia says he wants to share a joke, chances are it's intentionally going to be bad.

The premier has cultivated an image of a dorky father, but it's not just because he likes cringey jokes

The BC NDP is asking members of the public to fill out this online form if they want to share it with Premier John Horgan. (BC NDP)

"What did the zero say to the eight? Nice belt."

"Why don't lobsters give to charity? Because they're shellfish."

"What's a Jedi's favourite toy? A yo-Yoda!"

These are obviously bad jokes. But they're also bad jokes told by John Horgan, premier of British Columbia, in scripted videos released to the public.

Now, Horgan has gone one step further. 

"Tell John Horgan your best dad joke for Father's Day," says a page on the NDP's website. "Share your joke ... and we'll share the top 5 with John Horgan and let him pick his favourite."

There are certain archetypes politicians typically adopt: caring soccer mom, nerdy technocrat, charismatic quasi-celebrity, barnstorming populist. 

If Horgan explicitly tries to brand himself as anything, it's that of a dorky dad: he'll eagerly talk about Star Trek, show off his collection of sports jerseys and lacrosse equipment, and make self-deprecating jokes that he's more pleased about than his audience. 

"One of the strategies you want to be, if you're a representative of the working class, you want to be a down-home friendly guy," said Lindsay Meredith. professor emeritus of marketing strategy at Simon Fraser University.

"Dumb dad jokes are about the most innocuous of the whole crowd."


Worthy of groans, and kudos

Maclean Kay, who served as Christy Clark's speech writer when she was premier, said mediocre jokes can equal smart politics.

"The best branding of a politician is something that's close to the truth. Christy Clark really was and is a big sports fan and a dedicated mom," Kay said.  

"It's in the NDP interest to get more of that stuff out there, because the more you know about politicians, the more you tend to like about them."

But Kay said there were elements of Horgan's branding that merit serious discussion. If you're a homeowner or business furious about new taxes, or an energy worker potentially affected by the Kinder Morgan dispute, a joke contest could rub you the wrong way. 

"I can only imagine the reaction had we been running a joke contest, I think we would have been accused of yet another photo op, why aren't you concentrating, and how dare you," he said.

There's also the fact that the joke contest asks people to submit their email address, phone number and postal code — valuable information for any future campaign.

"This is not just an innocent joke contest, but this is data collection ... once you click send, your reward is going to be a ton of emails asking you for money."

Kay said the NDP should be more upfront that submitting a joke to the so-called contest means people may receive advertisements and solicitations in the future. But he was sympathetic to the fact that opposition parties have an easier time creating online campaigns designed to identify possible supporters.

"In opposition, it's easy to say 'I think the government should be doing more about [a certain] cause. And if you agree add in your email, and we'll add your voice,'" he said. 

"When you're in government, it's harder to say 'I think government's doing a great job' ... So they have to come up with increasingly creative ways to build the list.

"And a dad joke contest is one way to do that."

The NDP made fun of Horgan's penchant for dad jokes in an online campaign video during the last election.

'It's kind of genius' 

The people responsible for Horgan's public image are happy to roll their eyes when the premier cracks wise, but less happy to talk about how much it is an explicit strategy. 

"The dad jokes just float through everything we do," said Horgan's press secretary, Sheena McConnell, who said questions about the data collection would be best answered by the B.C. NDP. The party did not return a request for comment.

Which makes a certain amount of sense. Meredith says the key to any branding exercise is authenticity, and the more backroom staffers talk about it, the less genuine it seems. 

And Kay says speech writers might have another incentive to keep up with the dad jokes.

"The whole point is that they're bad. It's kind of genius," he said.

"It's much harder to write a really good joke." 


















Justin McElroy


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