British Columbia

John Horgan's environmental legacy under scrutiny as his tenure as B.C.'s premier ends

As John Horgan's tenure as B.C.'s premier comes to an end Friday, many of those most affected are reflecting on his government's legacy on environmental policy.

Many of the environmental projects he fought against in Opposition were able to proceed under his government

John Horgan, a white man with white hair, is pictured in profile.
Premier John Horgan speaks to the B.C. Chamber of Commerce on Thursday in his final official speech as premier. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

As John Horgan's tenure as B.C.'s premier comes to an end Friday, many of those most affected are reflecting on his government's legacy on environmental policy.

Horgan was elected as leader of the province in 2017, the head of a minority government in partnership with the B.C. Green Party, after a three-year-long tenure as leader of the Opposition.

His fiery criticism of many of the B.C. Liberals' environmental policies — the Site C hydroelectric dam in northeast B.C., their focus on liquefied natural gas and their forestry practices — were trademarks of his approach to opposition.

But once in government, many of the policies he staunchly fought against proceeded as before, especially after he won a clear majority in 2020.

Horgan approved the continuation of Site C, despite the opposition of residents and reports that stated it could be stopped. 

Under his tenure, liquefied natural gas projects have continued apace. And, despite dogged protests that provoked militarized responses, old-growth logging has not yet fully stopped in the province.

"There is a laundry list of things that the B.C. NDP and Premier Horgan have not been able to accomplish in the five years that they have been in power," said Peter McCartney, a climate campaigner with the advocacy group Wilderness Committee.

"Most of them are things they absolutely promised to do."

A group of people in high-visibility vests and police officers walk on muddy ground in a forest.
Anti-logging protesters at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island on Sept. 29, 2021. The B.C. government put an old-growth logging deferral process in place after standoffs with protesters, but advocates have asked for more clarity. (Ken Mizokoshi/CBC)

Much of Horgan's tenure has been marked by a perceived ability to foster co-operation on multiple fronts, especially in his role as chair of the Council of the Federation, lobbying the federal government on behalf of all the provinces.

But McCartney said his alleged inaction in blocking fossil fuel projects and his track record on old-growth logging did not endear him to those in environmental circles.

"We are not on track to meeting our climate targets," he said. "Although there's lots of good in there, it has been a failure."

Site C the 'elephant in the room'

For Ken Boon, a farmer in northeastern B.C.'s Peace Valley whose land was expropriated for the Site C dam, Horgan's flip-flopping on the issue constituted the "elephant in the room" when it comes to his premiership.

Horgan was pictured in 2012 on Boon's farm holding up a sign that read "Site C sucks," and in 2016 he contributed to a campaign that put a stake in the ground in opposition to the project. The farmer said he had high hopes after Horgan came to power — but they were dashed in December 2017.

"We were only two years into the project when he took over," Boon said. "They could have done the right thing environmentally and economically.

"That did not happen under John Horgan. They put the hammer down and continued."

Two people stand at the door of their house, with one of them holding an old picture.
Ken and Arlene Boon stand outside the house her grandfather built in the 1940s near Fort St. John, B.C. They had to leave after the land was expropriated for the construction of the Site C dam. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Boon pointed to the lack of specific species protection laws — another "broken" Horgan promise — as one of the reasons resource extraction projects continue at the rate they do in B.C.

Boon and his wife Arlene have had to vacate his wife's old home as builders get to work on a huge highway expansion to go along with Site C. He called the project a "senseless" act that went against reconciliation.

"John Horgan definitely is a politician. And I guess, you know, in some ways I guess he's a very astute, good politician," Boon said. 

"As far as political survival, he's done very well … when it comes to the environment, I would say he gets a big F for fail."

Horgan remains proud of UNDRIP

Stewart Philip, the grand chief of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said in a statement that he was grateful for Horgan's time in power but that they did not see eye to eye on Site C, old growth and the expansion of LNG projects.

Philip and McCartney both commended Horgan for putting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) into B.C. law, which will create a framework for future consultation and co-operation with Indigenous people.

For his part, Horgan remains bullish about his environmental legacy. In his final official speech as premier on Thursday, he called passing UNDRIP his proudest achievement.

"We are doing our part. We are doing more than any other part of Canada," he said. "How arrogant do you have to be to think that the five million of us are going to solve a problem [climate change] that's affecting eight billion people?

He said he was "frustrated" with those who criticize him for continuing with LNG.

"We will continue to have vigorous debates about old-growth logging, about oil and gas, about mining. But these are absolutely essential components to us moving forward."

David Eby, a tall white man, smiles at John Horgan, another white man.
As premier, David Eby has said he would look at ending fossil fuel subsidies. He won his party's leadership by acclamation after his opponent, environmental activist Anjali Appadurai, was found to have broken campaign rules. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

As for the incoming premier, David Eby signalled that he would continue to build on the CleanBC emission reduction platform, despite advocates like McCartney saying that emission reduction is impossible with LNG expansion.

"British Columbians know that we can't continue to subsidize fossil fuels and expect to transition to a clean energy future," Eby told CBC News in an interview. "We have to support those clean energy initiatives that are going to move us forward." 

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated that John Horgan was pictured on Ken Boon's farm holding up a sign that read "Site C sucks" in 2016. In fact, the photo was taken in 2012. 
    Nov 18, 2022 11:09 AM PT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Akshay Kulkarni

Journalist

Akshay Kulkarni is a journalist who has worked at CBC British Columbia since 2021. Based in Vancouver, he has covered breaking news, and written features about the pandemic and toxic drug crisis. He is most interested in data-driven stories. You can email him at akshay.kulkarni@cbc.ca.

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