The Unofficial Race to Become the Next Premier of British Columbia kicks off with the Resignation of Premier Horgan.

As BC Premier John Horgan took to the podium this afternoon, British Columbians saw a committed public servant take a bow on his own terms. Politics is a tough business, and public service comes with its own set of sacrifices. Those sacrifices have torn apart many idealistic candidates, and gamified partisanship has sidelined its own share of sound public policy in favour of what’s ‘politically palatable.’  And at the same time, there’s still an enormous opportunity to impact the lives of millions of people in communities across this province.

Today, Premier John Horgan announced that he will be stepping down as leader of BC’s New Democrats, and ultimately as Premier of the Province of BC. He will stay on as the Premier until the party can conduct a leadership race to find a new leader this Fall. It’s the first time in over three decades that a BC Premier has stepped away from the role without the threat of defeat.

Whenever a leader chooses to step down, we begin to think about their legacy. Premier Horgan has earned his place as one of BC’s historically significant premiers. His work leading BC through COVID-19, record wildfires and devastating floods stands out. So does his government’s work to advance Indigenous reconciliation, climate action, and campaign finance reform. Abolishing MSP premiums, reducing auto insurance rates and getting rid of bridge tolls proved popular with suburban voters.

Horgan will leave as the longest-serving NDP Premier in BC’s history. He has consistently ranked as one of the most well-liked Premiers in Canada. His approval ratings have always been steady, averaging above 45%. His recent battle with throat cancer – the impact of which figured in Horgan’s decision to spend more time with his wife “watching the otters” and “just being John” – struck a chord with many voters.

His approval ratings soared during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the impact of careful and strategic communications strategies that position experts versus political figures at the forefront of technical and health information.

Looking back, Horgan’s popularity grew during the 2017 provincial election, especially during debates against former Premier Christy Clark. Premier Horgan came off as approachable and down-to-earth; he also focused on the key issue of affordability throughout the entire campaign. This was a key factor in the electoral defeat of the BC Liberals and their replacement with an NDP government supported by the BC Greens.

But that commitment came with its own challenges: by defeating a government on the issue of affordability, the NDP implicitly promised to fix it. And BC’s affordability and quality of life problems – from housing to energy to access to family doctors – have proven to be structural and difficult to resolve. While the Government has made significant investments and made progress on these files, the positive impacts have been blunted by cascading crises, leaving significant challenges for the next premier to resolve.

Those structural problems are among the issues that bedevil the government to this day – the government faces continued housing affordability challenges, and the province continues to experience shortages of medical personnel.

Further, despite investments to build the Broadway Subway and expand the Skytrain in Surrey, transportation needs remain, particularly for communities south of the Fraser and in North Vancouver. BC’s toxic drug supply also continues to kill despite efforts to ensure safe supply, and – most recently and perhaps most famously – there was the backtrack on the $800-million Royal BC Museum project.

Horgan’s willingness to take full accountability and pivot on mistakes has proven one of his strongest qualities and a key reason for his enduring popularity with British Columbians. While his speaking off the cuff could land him in hot water, his willingness to admit his errors provided a lesson in humility and accountability that leaders of all political stripes could take a lesson from.

What This Means for You: 

As we head into a new political reality in British Columbia, there will be new opportunities to advance your advocacy goals and connect with decision-makers and Premier-potentials.

Leverage stability at the Provincial Level. 

Premier Horgan will stay in his role as Premier until a new leader is chosen, likely in the Fall. The Government will continue the work of advancing its priorities without major interruption. And the BC NDP has two years left in its mandate – ample time for a new leader to establish themselves as Premier ahead of a provincial election in 2024.

Stay out in front of the issues. 

Health will remain one of the top priorities for the Provincial Government. Premier Horgan was chosen to be the Chair of the Council of Federation, comprised of all 13 provincial and territorial Premiers. In his role as Chair, he has been pivotal in lobbying the federal government to increase federal health transfers.  Health will remain at the top of the agenda, as will the need to be efficient and innovative in creating solutions to rising costs and rising needs.

Plan ahead for Cabinet Shifts. 

A leadership contest will mean new faces occupying some key roles with the Provincial Government. Cabinet ministers who want to contest the leadership will likely need to resign their roles. If you have outstanding business, move quickly to confirm next steps with the existing minister and ensure continuity on your file by making sure the public service is well briefed.

Ministers rumoured to be considering bids include high-profile ministers like Nathan Cullen (Municipal Affairs), David Eby (Attorney General and Housing), Ravi Kahlon (Jobs Economic Recovery and Innovation) and Josie Osborne (Land and Water and Resource Stewardship).

Bring your big ideas. 

Leadership contests offer opportunities for those who are nimble and strategic. Now’s the time to polish your big policy asks and be prepared to engage in leadership campaigns. This is a time for innovative ideas that can solve people’s problems. Get clear on the problems, and even clearer on potential solutions.

Premier Horgan leaves office deeply popular – personally and politically.

He will be remembered for delivering stability and trust during a time of crisis and change that was – if you’ll excuse us one final time – unprecedented.

And in the final months of his Premiership, he’ll have begun to deliver on the left-wing agenda – from UNDRIP implementation to decriminalization of drugs to card check union certification – that his NDP base supporters have waited for.

If you have to leave politics, this is the way to do it – at the peak.

His successor has a large void to fill.

Authored by members of H+K’s British Columbia based team including Alex Mitchell, Jeffrey Ferrier, Michael O’Shaughnessy and Carlie Pochynok.