A willingness to admit a mistake and reverse course can go a long way in politics, and it is too bad so few politicians take that approach.
However, Premier John Horgan seems to have no problem in taking a proverbial second look at some things, and that attribute may make it even more difficult for the B.C. Liberals to dislodge him from office.
With the legislature in recess, Horgan was able to get out of the capital and head north to Dawson Creek and personally intervene in an issue that was spiralling out of control, with potential consequences for much of the province.
Horgan met with local officials and politicians to discuss his government’s proposed plan to protect the mountain caribou. The federal government is requiring the province to draw one up, but the preliminary plan has outraged much of the Peace River region because it could lead to the loss of a significant number of jobs (as many as 500, according to one estimate). The plan would, among other things, reduce the annual allowable cut of timber and potentially close much of the backcountry.
A delegation of politicians and business leaders had travelled to Victoria the week before to plead their case. A Peace River B.C. Liberal MLA – Mike Bernier – tabled a 33,000-person petition in the legislature calling for a halt to the plan.
Horgan obviously took note. Unlike some of his predecessors – former B.C. Liberal premiers Gordon Campbell and particularly Christy Clark – he sensed digging the government’s heels on this was unwise and surprisingly and without fanfare, boarded a plane to Dawson Creek.
Speaking there, he was blunt in his assessment of his government’s performance on the file. In short, he branded it a failure for the lack of consultation with local communities, aside from First Nations. “We, as a new government, didn’t do enough work to prepare the public for this process,” he told a local crowd. “We had a constitutional obligation to engage with Saulteau and West Moberly (two local First Nations) and we did that. We also had a public obligation to weigh in with the community and that is now going to happen.”
However, that consultation is going to be extended and someone not part of his government will oversee it: former B.C. Liberal MLA Blair Lekstrom.
With one bold stroke, he acknowledged his government had blown things, removed the cabinet minister from being in charge of the file and turned things over to a longtime member of the Opposition party.
This marks the second time the premier has turned to a one-time political foe for guidance. He earlier asked former B.C. Liberal cabinet minister George Abbott to formally review the government’s response to last year’s record forest fire and flooding season.
Do not be surprised if Horgan turns to other non-NDPers on some issues in the future regarding issues in areas his government “does not have elected representatives who can be our sounding boards” is the way he characterized it to the Dawson Creek crowd.
Given the NDP is pretty well shut out in much of the province outside of Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island, I have to wonder whether some other ex-B.C. Liberals will be tapped on the shoulder to provide advice on all kinds of land use decisions in the future.
Horgan also implied that a consultation process that only included First Nations and paid lip service to other local communities is unacceptable. This is perhaps yet another clue of how the NDP’s commitment to Indigenous reconciliation may unfold on other issues around the province.
The NDP’s decision to implement the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has made a number of communities and industries understandably nervous, as the implications of that move have yet to be fully understood. So essentially rejecting a consultation process that focused solely on the views of First Nations may shine a light going forward.
Admitting a mistake and occasionally being non-partisan are both worthy attributes in a political leader. Horgan’s deft manoeuvring on the caribou issue – although mind, it’s not over yet – should stand as a warning to the B.C. Liberals that their political enemy will be hard to keep in the crosshairs.
Keith Baldrey is chief political correspondent for Global BC.
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