John Horgan stresses the importance of conversations and collegiality in final UBCM speech
B.C. Premier John Horgan made a speech concluding the 2022 Union of B.C. Municipalities convention emphasizing the need for civil discourse in politics and people of different opinions coming together.
"I am a partisan … I have my values, I grew up with these values. But when those values were instilled in me, I was taught to respect the views of every person and to learn from other people," he said to hundreds of mayors and councillors from across the province.
"We can have disagreements, we can be passionate about our point of view … but also the importance of us working together."
Horgan received standing ovations from the delegates, who spent much of the week trading ideas on how to deal with a variety of issues, ranging from doctor shortages and police reform, to the drug poisoning crisis and climate change.
"As we reflect on the past five years, we have to think about droughts, we think about floods, landslides, wildfires, heat domes, atmospheric rivers, a poisoned drug supply, and of course a global pandemic. These are not ordinary times," he said.
No 'lollypops' for cities
At the same time, Horgan did not make any new promises or commitments to local leaders on what his government would do about the issues discussed during the week.
"UBCM has often been characterized as the place where lolis are handed out," he said, referencing the way past governments would use the week to announce things ranging from the elimination of tolls on highways to the signing of collective agreements with unions.
"What we've tried to do is turn that on its head. Instead of coming to UBCM and saying, 'something for you, something for you, something for you,' we've come to say 'what can we do over the next year together?'"
It was an implicit response to criticism earlier in the week, where Health Minister Adrian Dix took part in a session addressing the doctor and ambulance shortages in many communities, only to make no new commitments, to the disappointment of some delegates.
Horgan acknowledged the stresses communities were facing around those and other issues, but said he did not feel the tone was one of anger to his government.
"I heard frustration, despondency, and a lack of hope in some areas," he said.
"My job is to hear those concerns. I'm well aware of them, these problems didn't arrive yesterday and they won't be solved magically tomorrow. They'll only be solved if we roll up our sleeves together."
'Get a life'
Horgan acknowledged it was his last time attending the UBCM convention as premier, and was at times wistful in saying what he had gained from the annual event through the years.
"This the place I've met many of you," said Horgan, before beginning a series of anecdotes involving trips to small communities across the province often sparked by those discussions, "and in order to understand the problems you have, you have to have a conversation about it, and it shouldn't be acrimonious."
Although collaboration and congeniality and light humour were the repeated themes of Horgan's comments throughout the day, his answer to a final question from journalists — on his response to critics of the province's approach to old growth forests — took a slightly different tone.
"To the critics I say: get a life," he said, adding that it was "the Horgan unplugged part of our proceedings today."
"Listen to communities. When I hear people say that they're speaking for Indigenous people, I say have you ever met an Indigenous person? Have you been in a community that's struggled with poverty for generations?
"People need to stand up and support each other. And to the critics I say: put your name on the ballot and see how much support you get."