Premier John Horgan and his wife Ellie sat down with the Gazette to discuss how their lives have changed.
It’s been a long journey for the pair to get here, one that Horgan said was shaped by the West Shore community. As MLA for the Langford-Juan de Fuca riding since 2005, he noted it’s come a long way since the days when Langford was referred to as the dog patch. “And now,” he said, “they call it one of the most dynamic cities in British Columbia and the physical transformation is one thing but it’s the sense of that excitement … I’m proud to be the first premier from Langford.”
Twenty-five years ago, living in his mom’s basement in Saanich, the pair was looking for a home in which to raise their two babies. “The day before St. Patrick’s Day, we went to a house in Langford and the realtor said ‘you can move in tomorrow’ and we said ‘perfect, we’ll take it.’ The truck with all of our goods came over on the ferry and dropped them off the next day and we’ve been in Langford ever since,” he said.
And a lot has changed since then. “I definitely see far less of John than I would like,” Ellie said. “He’s away a heck of a lot or even if he is in town, he comes home quite late … that’s been the biggest change.” She joked she also can no longer send him out for groceries as it takes him about four hours to get a jug of milk.
But the family will be together for Christmas, as their oldest son who lives in England is coming home for the holidays. It’s the first time they’ve been together since Horgan was sworn in as premier.
“I’m really excited about that,” he said. “We’ll have an opportunity to take stock over the past year and what the next few years will hold.”
Looking back, he noted it hasn’t always been easy.
“We made a very difficult choice in proceeding with the Site C dam,” he explained. “Many people were profoundly unhappy with that decision.”
But after carefully weighing the options, Horgan noted with $2 billion already spent and another $2 billion needed just to fill in the hole if the project were to stop, it would be best to carry on. While he acknowledge the $10-billion price tag is not a small one, he said “we’d at least have a dam at the end of the day that would be able to generate electricity, clean electricity, for the next 70 years.”
The decision to halt the project would have also meant Horgan’s government would have to absorb that $4 billion in its first six months on the job. “I wasn’t prepared to do that, I want to make sure that we’re delivering on childcare, we’re delivering on seniors’ care, and in order to do that we need to have fiscal flexibility … Making a decision on Site C to stop the Liberal project would have maybe felt good for a day but then everyday after that it would have been a challenge to meet the needs of British Columbians.”
Fortunately a decision like that doesn’t have to be made every day and Horgan noted there have been several projects passed by his government that will benefit the West Shore community and the province.
But the one he’s most proud of is eliminating tuition fees on adult basic education, which means there’s one less barrier for residents.
“To be able to go back to school at no cost is something that I think that’s really important. Education shaped me and public education made me who I am and I believe that if people get an opportunity to upgrade their skills, they’ll be better people and they’ll realize their full potential.”
Ellie noted that initiative is the one she’s received the most feedback on from residents. “I was hurt and I had a steady stream of home support workers coming in and helping me and a lot of them were from elsewhere and they said that would just improve their lives immensely.”
Another new program the pair is very proud of is waving post-secondary tuition fees for kids that were in the care of the government. “As parents, Ellie and I didn’t say when our kids turned 19, ‘you’re out, sorry, don’t come back’ but that’s in essence what happens to kids that are in care and we’ve heard tragic story after tragic story.”
While he noted it’ll cost the government very little, it’s hugely symbolic as many of the youth are aging out of the system and taking their own lives. “They don’t see a bright future, they see a bleak future … Whatever the government can do to make people feel better about their prospects and then their ability to succeed, I think allows them to succeed.”
While a lot has changed in the past months, Horgan noted they still made it out to watch the Victoria Shamrocks play whenever they could during the season.
“Shamrock fans treat us pretty well, even people that didn’t vote for me,” he joked.
In fact, he said he’s often approached by residents that didn’t vote for him. He was recently getting his hair cut “and there were four guys in a very small area that’s Deb’s Barbershop, and one of them said ‘well I didn’t vote for you but I think you’re doing okay.’ And I hear that a lot from people as I travel around the province,” he said.
“That’s been very encouraging for me and it helps me get going everyday. Knowing that I’m going to run into people that may not have put an x beside my name but they also want the same things I do and I think if I can continue on that road we’ll all be fine.”