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Les Leyne: The travails of 'John from Langford'

John Horgan’s private career still public, caught in political and environmental crossfire
John Horgan on his last full day as premier on Nov. 17, 2022. Darryl Dyck, The Canadian Press

John Horgan did 18 tempestuous, dramatic years in politics then quit at the top of his game and walked out the door of the legislature a free man.

The assumption was that he’d go back to being “John from Langford” and relish a return to private life. But he’s turned into a bit of a punching bag in absentia for his bitter former partners in the B.C. Green Party. His private career plans have ­inadvertently refocused ­attention on a complicated international environmental issue. He’s also a side-angle to a major foreign corporate power play currently underway.

So much for a clean break with politics and a low-profile lifestyle. His new private ­sector career has cropped up at the legislature a few times since he quit.

It all stems from the announcement he made, ­immediately after vacating his seat, that he was joining the board of a new entity Teck Resources was spinning off that would run the corporation’s four long-established coal mines in the Kootenays.

Even though Teck’s coal operations (which ­support ­steel-making) are far more defensible than power-­generating uses, the ­Canadian-owned outfit wants to divorce coal from the rest of its ­metal-oriented business. So it’s creating Elk Valley Resources and approached Horgan in ­December about the board position with the new entity.

He had announced the ­previous ­summer he was resigning as premier and relinquished the job to David Eby in November. Then he announced in February he was leaving politics entirely, and would resign his seat March 31.

When Globe and Mail reporter Ian Bailey broke the news about Horgan’s new job the day after he quit, the ex-premier ­preemptively dismissed any criticism during an interview.

“I don’t want to be snippy about it. … But I don’t have a lot of time anymore — none, in fact — for public comment on my world view or what I am doing with my time.”

Regardless of whether he has time for it, there’s still some public comment about the new circumstances.

Opposition ­critics are intensely interested in how it relates to a long-­running cross-border dispute about toxic selenium from the coal-mining that leaches into ­rivers that flow into Montana.

Montana is trying to set standards far stricter than B.C.’s. Kootenay BC United MLA Tom Shypitka said they are unsustainable and could have a catastrophic effect on Teck. The corporation has paid millions in escalating fines over the years for breaching standards and well over $1 billion on cleanup efforts.

Horgan is obviously ­obligated now to protect the company’s interests, but it’s the ­government’s stance that ­interests BC United and B.C.’s Green Party.

Environment Minister George Heyman told the house that B.C. officials have been meeting for years with Montanans and they are continuing. Heyman himself met Teck and Elk Valley Resources officials days before Horgan’s appointment to the board was announced.

Under lobbying ­restrictions made by the NDP, Horgan ­cannot approach the ­provincial government for two years after his resignation. But B.C. Green Leader Sonia Furstenau is ­questioning moves the NDP made to Teck’s benefit prior to Horgan’s departure.

The idea of referring the ­selenium issue to an ­international joint commission has been aired, but Teck and the B.C. government both oppose it. Furstenau told the legislature the corporation lobbied the government dozens of times in 2022 and the record shows it last met then-premier Horgan in October.

Heyman said to the best of his recollection he never discussed with Horgan B.C.’s stance against sending the ­selenium issue to the international joint commission. The lobbying ­meetings were all routine and work to protect water quality will continue, he said.

The Greens have been on the outs with Horgan since he ­violated the confidence deal they had to support his minority ­government and called a snap election in 2020.

After Heyman chastised her this week for making ­inferences, Furstenau said: “I wasn’t ­making allegations. I’m asking ­questions.”

But she introduced a private bill the next day that would outlaw the move Horgan made. It has no hope of passing, but serves notice that if it was up to her, he’d be facing a $50,000 fine.

Meanwhile, a foreign ­takeover bid (strongly opposed by Eby) that arrived days after Horgan signed on could ­potentially ­complicate the spin-off and who sits at the board table.

In short, Horgan could still be in the news for a while.

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