Horgan's reversal on Peace River caribou plan a savvy political move

A willingness to admit a mistake and reverse course can go a long way in politics - it’s just too bad so few politicians take this approach.

Premier John Horgan has no problem in taking a second look at some decisions. It’s that attribute that could make it more difficult for the BC Liberals to defeat him.

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Horgan headed north to Dawson Creek and personally intervened in an issue that was spiraling out of control.

Horgan met with local officials and politicians to discuss his government’s plan to protect the mountain caribou. The federal government is requiring the province to draw one up, but the preliminary proposal has outraged much of the Peace River region because it could cut as many as 500 jobs, according to one estimate).

The plan would reduce the annual allowable cut of timber and potentially close much of the backcountry.

A delegation of politicians and business leaders travelled to Victoria the week before to plead their case. A Peace River BC Liberal MLA – Mike Bernier – tabled a 33,000-person petition calling for a halt to the plan.

Horgan obviously took note. Unlike some of his predecessors – former BC Liberal Premiers Gordon Campbell and particularly Christy Clark – he sensed digging in the government’s heels on this was unwise.

Speaking to the locals, 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 said. “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 it will be overseen by someone not part of his government: former BC Liberal MLA Blair Lekstrom.

This marks the second time the premier has turned to a one-time political foe for guidance. He earlier asked former BC Liberal cabinet minister George Abbott to formally review the government’s response to last year’s flooding season and record forest fires.

Horgan also implied 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.   

Admitting a mistake and occasionally being non-partisan are both worthy attributes in a political leader. Horgan’s deft maneuvering on the caribou issue – although it’s not over yet – should stand as a warning to the BC 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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