I have seen many things around the B.C. legislature during the 30-plus years I’ve been stationed there covering B.C. politics, but I’ve never been partly responsible for kicking a cabinet committee out of the historic cabinet chamber.
Until last week, that is.
And my partner in crime was none other than Premier John Horgan.
I am often asked by teachers if I can spare some time to talk to their students when they visit the legislature (about a dozen classes a week take a tour of the place and they come from all over the province). I always try to oblige, and if there is time I try to take them on a behind-the-scenes tour of B.C.’s most important and historical building.
I usually take them into the Speaker’s Corridor, the library (the most beautiful part of the building), the Press Gallery (arguably the oddest part of the building) and, if they’re lucky, sometimes on to the floor of the legislative chamber itself.
Last week, the local Reynolds High School social studies 11 class made such a request. Students of B.C. politics may know that school is Horgan’s alma mater.
So I added one more place for them to visit: the premier’s office, where a Reynolds High School banner is draped over the entrance. That morning happened to be the Great Shakeout, when everyone is supposed to practice earthquake survival skills, such as ducking and covering.
They gathered in his office for a few minutes of small talk – with the premier showing off various souvenirs and such – and then he piped up.
“Hey, I’ve got an idea! Let’s go up to the cabinet room so you can dive under the cabinet table during the earthquake drill,” he suggested.
The wide-eyed youngsters made their way up the legendary, narrow spiral staircase (originally installed during former B.C. premier Bill Bennett’s time) to the cabinet chamber.
Horgan opened the door and stumbled into a cabinet committee meeting, composed of cabinet ministers and their deputies. He quickly and good-naturedly asked them to leave and at first, they seemed to think he was joking (and I think they were particularly taken aback to see a member of the Press Gallery waltzing into the chamber).
But no, he explained, we’ve got some high school students here and we need the room. I wasn’t quite sure this was actually happening: some of the most powerful people in the province having to make way for some social studies students (at least they were laughing about it as they were ushered out).
And with that, Horgan held court over the group as they sat around a table where many historic decisions have been made over many years. The kids didn’t have a lot of questions (I think they were a bit stunned that they were where they were) as Horgan tried to get a conversation going.
They seemed to perk up when he revealed he was the president of the student council during his time there.
Then the loudspeaker shouted “Earthquake! Earthquake!” and the kids dutifully dived under the giant table (which, Horgan explained, was actually built in the chamber).
Plenty of giggling ensued, as Horgan cracked jokes at one end of the table. Then, back on their feet, it was time for the requisite group selfie and they were on their way.
The ousted (but amused) ministers and deputies were in the lobby, waiting patiently to resume business. “You can have the cabinet room back now,” I loudly proclaimed. “We’re done with it.”
The whole episode was another example of Horgan’s approach to the job, which seems partly focused on having fun and intermingling with the public as much as anything (he also likes to give impromptu tours of the legislature to complete strangers, and the two of us have literally bumped into each other as we show off the place).
It is what sets him apart from so many others. And it was a glimpse of why he has proven to be a natural political campaigner.
Pushing the powerful people aside in favour of the younger generation? That’s a good look on any politician.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC. Keith.Baldrey@globalnews.ca
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