British Columbia·Q&A

Wildfires, opioid crisis, softwood: John Horgan outlines priorities before swearing-in

B.C.'s new premier addresses missing the premiers meeting, wildfire response and the historic transition to an NDP government after 16 years in opposition.

B.C.'s next NDP premier addresses missing the premiers meeting, wildfire response and the historic transition

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan smiles after the 2017 provincial election. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

It's been over two months since the May 9 election — and B.C. is finally getting a new premier.

Premier-designate John Horgan spoke to The Early Edition's guest host Stephen Quinn this morning on CBC Radio, hours before being sworn in as B.C.'s 36th premier.

What are your top priorities?

We're going to go to Ottawa next week to meet with the prime minister on a range of issues. Top of mind will be softwood lumber. We'll then be heading from Ottawa to Washington with a delegation from the forest sector and also those that have been working on the file to make the case that we are free and fair traders in British Columbia.

Of course — the response to the fires, and the opioid crisis which I believe is getting worse, not better. I think that the prime minister knows that and I think we need a concerted effort from both levels of government to address that. 

A lot of that will be covered at the meeting of premiers and territorial leaders. However you won't be there. Are you missing out? 

I would have liked to have been there but there's only so many hours in the day and so many days since the government was defeated. It's been 16 years since there's been a transition. It's been extremely difficult. There was a stream of information coming to me in the early days and now a flood of briefing materials. I'm doing everything I can to keep up with the existing issues of the day, but also to keep up on some of the stuff that's been going on for the past four months.

The relationship [with other premiers] starts at two o'clock today. It's disappointing I can't be in Edmonton, but there's no shortage of things to do right here and I think British Columbians would expect me to get a handle on the change, keep my eye close on the fire file, and then get prepared to address these other issues.

The Liberals have criticized your use of public funds to create a secretariat that would oversee the relationship between the Greens and the NDP. How do you respond to their assertion that the use of public servants and public dollars is not appropriate for that?

Our public institution is the legislature and what governs how we proceed is how we conduct ourselves there. I don't see it as inappropriate at all. I welcome the outgoing government stepping into the role as opposition and I expect them to raise issues like this when they think it's necessary.

I'm absolutely confident the best course of action is to be as open and transparent about this as possible, that's why we made the announcement we did. I'm hoping this minority situation is something that we will grow to see as a positive for British Columbia rather than something we should be concerned about. 

How will your government share information that comes under cabinet confidentiality with the Green Party?

These are elected representatives who are in the legislature to work for all British Columbians. We agreed that information that can be shared should be shared. As a longtime opposition member I wish that the outgoing government had done more of that.

We expect to work with everybody — Liberals, Greens and the broader public on issues that matter to them. I believe that the information belongs to the people of B.C. and that includes elected representatives. There is cabinet confidence of course. The Green caucus understands that and I think the Liberals would understand that as well. 

After you're sworn in, what are you going to be doing first to address the state of emergency when it comes to the B.C. wildfires?

We've been working ever since the government was defeated with the current government, the federal government, as well as Red Cross officials to make sure everything that can be done is being done.

I spoke just last evening with John Rustad, the point person for the current government, and he's prepared to stay on and assist the new minister who will be sworn in this afternoon. So I'm hopeful that everything will continue to go in a positive way in terms of the government response.

Will there be anything different about the NDP's approach?

No, I don't think so. In these situations I believe you have to put your confidence in the hands of the professionals that prepare every year for these types of events. I've flown over the sites in the Cariboo, I've been to evacuation centres in Kamloops, I've been briefed regularly by the deputy ministers and I'm confident that they're doing everything they can.

There has to be a phased-in approach to this, I've talked to the federal minister of defence, who is at the ready with personnel, but we need to have tasks for those personnel to do or they're just more mouths to feed and more people to find shelter for. 

As much as the tragedy of the fires has been horrific for those involved, it's been an opportunity for we elected representatives to recognize that at the end of the day our focus has to be on people and their needs. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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