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Showing up

Drex: The first job of leadership is showing up, telling people the latest, and how you have their backs. But as much of BC burns, unfortunately John Horgan hasn’t shown up.
Premier addresses the province
Premier John Horgan addresses the province about COVID-19 in March 2020. Why not now? (BC Government Flickr)

When New York City was hit by two planes in 2001, Rudy Guiliani became America's Mayor, because he showed up, stayed present for the entirety of the crisis – and even opened Saturday Night Live the night the city was allowed to have fun again.

He's since sullied any good name he had, but that's not the point of this.

The point is that when you're a politician – when you’re a leader – you show up. Even if people don't like you, you show up. It's important for many reasons.

Monday morning, Twitter was going nuts with questions as to where BC Premier John Horgan was, with half the Province in flames. Horgan has been somewhat absent the last few days as wildfires in the Interior get more and more intense, with more and more people either evacuated or on evacuation alert.

And now, those fires have essentially moved to his doorstep.

Horgan has been criticized in the past for not taking wildfires more seriously. In July he was asked to declare a state of emergency, and was accused being a coastal dweller who didn't understand the real impact of what was happening.

“We’ve got half the province on fire,” said Thompson-Nicola Regional District Chair Ken Gillis in July.

“What are they waiting for?”

Some will say " I don't need to see a premier," or "he can't help fight the fire." Of course not; there’s nothing he can physically do to help. But verbally and visually? He can absolutely help.

Here's why: the majority of us consume the news in two ways. Some are regular  newspaper readers, talk radio listeners, and voracious news and political website readers, people who know where to find news and information they need. But for many others, they might only have a chance to see the dinner hour headlines, or a bit on TV here and there. And it's generally the latter that expect to see their leaders reflecting their experiences back to them. They expect to see their leaders telling them that whatever happens, they'll have your back.

But it seems to me, this might not be a priority in the Premier's Office.

Look, Horgan is a good guy, an extremely personable guy, and I believe has been doing a pretty good job as Premier. But small missteps like this can damage politicians long-term.

Ask any politician, municipal, provincial, or federal, and they'll all tell you the same thing: Showing up is half the job.

Showing the people you represent that you're there for them in their darkest time is the hardest part of the job, and arguably one of the most important.

Like anyone else, politicians are entitled to time off, to re-connect with family and blow off steam before coming back to the legislature. But in a crisis, you stick around. You change your plans. Because you know what you've signed up for, especially when your title is Premier.

You're the one person we’re all looking to hear from. Because it's your job to tell me I'm gonna be okay, that my city is gonna be okay, and that you're gonna be there to help.

Brian Pallister, the outgoing PC Premier of Manitoba, is more recently known for getting emotional while expressing his need to steal Christmas from Manitobans to keep them safe. But for years, he was dogged with jokes about the amount of time he spent at his home in Costa Rica, instead of being in province, running the show.

And now Horgan is facing the same criticism for being away, apparently out of province, on vacation while BC burns.

He should have been on the next available flight his team could arrange over the weekend, and be present to address the immediate needs, talk about the provincial response, answer a flurry of questions from eager journalists – and then rinse & repeat.

The way government handled daily COVID-19 briefings is EXACTY what should be happening now: daily pressers with Premier, Public Safety Minister, and a wildfire spokesperson.

For over a year, British Columbians waited patiently  every day until just after 3pm to see those briefings, get the latest, and to be able to ask questions of their leaders and hear their responses.

So please explain why a wildfire that puts thousands in danger is any different?

Drex has been in radio and media for 27 years, the last seven years hosting afternoons and late nights at CKNW. He's now hosting mornings at Jack 96.9 and ranting for fun at the Orca.