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Premier stands by B.C. NDP approach to health care and crime crises

Analysts say issues could mean trouble for the NDP once the popular premier has retired.
B.C. Premier John Horgan addresses the Union of B.C. Municipalities Convention, in Whistler, B.C., on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022. Horgan says the New Democrat government's crime-fighting agenda involves more than increasing arrests of alleged violent offenders. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Premier John Horgan defended the government’s approach to health care and violent crime, dual crises that threaten to hijack his swan song session before his retirement.

During a press conference in Victoria Wednesday, Horgan said the B.C. Liberals — who have accused the government of overseeing a “catch and release” system in which violent repeat offenders are arrested and quickly released on bail — peddle “bumper sticker slogans” that are “nonsense.”

Instead, the government is taking a “multi-faceted approach,” Horgan said, which includes more resources for Crown prosecutors, and mental health and addiction supports.

“People see crime, they see perpetrators being not dealt with aggressively. I’m frustrated by that,” he said.

At the same time, Horgan stood behind Attorney General Murray Rankin who on Tuesday was jeered during question period for saying the government “can’t arrest its way” out of the crime problem.

Horgan pointed out that the B.C. Liberal’s new MLA for Surrey South, Elenore Sturko, a former Surrey RCMP officer, made a similar statement during an online all-candidates forum on Aug. 31.

Sturko on Wednesday said she was talking about the issue of homelessness and mental health, not prolific offenders when she said: “We cannot arrest our way out of these problems.”

Horgan has also been under pressure to come up with better answers to B.C.’s health care crisis, which has left ambulances unstaffed, temporarily closed small town emergency rooms and left a million British Columbians without a family doctor.

On Wednesday, the premier repeated his refrain that Ottawa must establish a national health-care strategy to keep provinces from poaching health care workers from each other.

“It’s almost a year since the federal government committed to me that we would be working together on addressing these issues,” he said, but that hasn’t happened.

Horgan stood by Health Minister Adrian Dix who on Monday faced calls to resign over what the Opposition says is a lack of accountability for deaths related to the crisis. This summer at least three people, including an infant, died waiting for paramedics to arrive in Ashcroft and Barriere.

Political watchers say the B.C. NDP might be in trouble once Horgan takes his leave, given that the premier’s popularity eclipses that of his government.

An Angus Reid Institute poll released this week shows 43 per cent of British Columbians polled say Horgan will be remembered as an outstanding or above average premier.

Contrast that with the 73 per cent of respondents who said the NDP government is performing poorly on inflation, health care and housing affordability.

Angus Reid’s executive director, Shachi Kurl, said Horgan “leaves with a lot of work that has not been addressed” while at the same time exiting on his own terms instead of under a cloud of scandal or crushing unpopularity.

The next premier will have to shoulder the weight of the political baggage passed on by Horgan, said a University of British Columbia political scientist, Gerald Baier.

Baier said the opposition has already shifted its attacks from Horgan to David Eby, the presumed front-runner in the NDP leadership race. Eby is being challenged by climate activist Anjali Appadurai.

Horgan brushed aside suggestions that the October deadline for briefing notes for the incoming premier means that the B.C. NDP is preparing to disqualify Appadurai, whose campaign has been beset by allegations of fraudulent membership signups.

Voting for the new NDP leader doesn’t begin until Nov. 13 and the winner announced Dec. 3. However, the party has not certified Appadurai as a candidate and is in the midst of an internal investigation alongside a review by Elections B.C.

The preparation process for the incoming premier, Horgan said, began the moment he announced his retirement in June and is a prudent approach to avoid “doing our homework the night before.”

He dismissed the issue as “a tempest in a teapot, a mountain out of a molehill, a Twitterdom explosion by a bunch of partisans.”