You can’t fake the kind of political mojo that Premier John Horgan has with the British Columbia public. It can’t be recreated in focus groups by political strategists, or workshopped by social media gurus, or studied by political scientists. It just is; an indefinable ability to read the public mood and respond with off-the-cuff lines that resonate with that key demographic of the public that doesn’t much care about politics at all.
That sixth sense was on full display again Friday when, after a meeting with Ukrainian cultural leaders, Horgan was asked about another planned protest at the legislature by anti-vaxx, anti-science, anti-authority truckers.
He let loose.
“I would just say to these people, goodness me, get a hobby,” said Horgan.
“Find something else to do with your time. We are removing restrictions at a pace that is consistent with the work we've done for the past two years and 94% of adults in BC are vaccinated.
“So we are spending an awful lot of time with a small group of people who seem to have nothing better to do with their time but to drive around in circles honking their horns.
“I wish they'd take some time to watch television and see the evening news about real tragedies and real disruptions in freedom that are going on in Europe right now.”
It was an ad-libbed response dripping with Horgan mannerisms and inflections. The feisty Irishman often leads with his heart, and in this case he tapped into the vast silent majority of British Columbians utterly pissed off by the trucker protests, who have been simmering internally and suddenly found their voice through the premier.
“Give your head a shake,” Horgan added.
“Find a better way to take your energies and put it to positive outcomes, that's my recommendation.”
The initial clip of the exchange was floated out on Twitter by Horgan’s director of communications, George Smith, and subsequently went viral, with more than 3,000 likes.
That prompted the premier’s office to share the clip directly via Horgan’s account, where it was liked 22,000 times and retweeted more than 5,000 times.
“Damn, this is good,” quote tweeted Tara Sloan, host of Hometown Hockey on Sportsnet, which caused another pile of likes.
The replies rolled in: “I don’t agree with a lot of Horgan’s policies, but he speaks some real truth here.”
“Sometimes someone articulates what you’re thinking about something with absolute perfection. Thank you Mr Horgan for hitting this nail so squarely on the head.”
“Proud to live in BC.”
You couldn’t buy an ad with the kind of positive reach the Horgan tweet got.
It was even more popular on Facebook, which reaches more regular users than Twitter. It quickly became the most widely shared post ever for him on Instagram.
People across the country, some of whom didn’t even know who he was, weighed in with support. It was further amplified by federal Liberal supporters, still stung by the trucker movement that occupied Parliament Hill last month.
Then it went international, rolling through the United States.
“Could this guy make himself available at the Duty Free shop? I’d like to bring a case of him back to the US ,” tweeted Boston Globe reporter Kevin Paul Dupont.
It would not have been possible to recreate this moment with a staged answer by Horgan, looking directly into the phone of a staffer or reading from a script prepared by a pollster. It had to come from both the sleeve and the heart. That authenticity is a major key to Horgan’s success – the magic sauce if you will. Very few politicians have it.
BC New Democrats are once again thanking their lucky stars a reluctant John Horgan decided to run for party leader in 2014. The party has ridden his Premier Dad brand like a surfboard over an orange wave the last two elections. He’s regularly polled as one of the most popular premiers in the country for an astounding five consecutive years. Without him, and little populist moments like the one he created on the trucker convoy, none of the BC NDP success would have been possible.
Horgan’s future is unknown. He just survived his second bout with cancer. His wife would like him to spend more time at home. He’s put more than 30 years into BC politics as both a staffer, MLA, and now premier. It’s quite possible he’ll retire in the next year or so, rather than run for another term.
When he does, Horgan will likely go down as one of the greatest premiers in the history of British Columbia. His most recent comments, and that authentic connection with the public, were another example of why.
Rob Shaw has spent more than 13 years covering BC politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for The Orca. He is the co-author of the national best-selling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.