There are mixed reviews about former premier John Horgan’s move to enter into the coal industry after leaving provincial politics.
Horgan, who resigned on March 31 as MLA for the Langford-Juan de Fuca riding, will be sitting on the board of a company spun off from Teck Resources, called Elk Valley Resources.
“When you see a revolving door between government and industry, that is when the confidence in this institution starts to be eroded,” BC Green MLA Adam Olsen said, adding that it was “shocking to see such an announcement so short after his resignation.
“This is not to cast aspersions on an individual (Horgan). He might be gone from here and he might not give a care about what we think about him and his decisions. I’m still here and my job is to defend the integrity of this institution.”
The move prompted no small measure of outrage among environmentalists, as Horgan will be working for a company that uses coal to make metallurgical steel.
“If the goal is to go into the company and clean it up and make sure that it is operating in a good environmental way and not polluting, all the power to him,” Olsen said. “But the reality of it is that it runs counter to lot of what the messaging (from) his former government. He has every right to make that decision, but the public has every right to comment on it.”
In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Horgan drew a distinction between burning coal for fuel and using it to make steel in promising to make sure that the company lives up to its social and environmental obligations. While Horgan predicted that his move would generate a negative reaction in certain quarters, he signaled that it would not cause him grief.
Reaction to Horgan’s move was less negative among the BC Liberals.
“On behalf of our caucus, I wish John Horgan, all the best in his new role and frankly, it’s fantastic that a former premier, particularly a former NDP premier, has decided to embrace as his next career step working with a very reputable group of people in a very significant natural resource company in this province,” said Todd Stone, BC Liberal House Leader.
“May be John Horgan in his new role with this resource company will have some conversations with the current premier about the importance of B.C.’s natural resource sector.”
Stone added metallurgical steel is an important resource.
“[Horgan] has always had a special place in his heart and a profound respect for not just the history of the natural resource sector, but the future importance and significance of our resource sector. He will be able to make an impact at that level for good for the resource sector in the province.”
Stone said lobbying rules are very strict, pointing to the cooling off period among other measures, when asked about Olsen’s comments.
“To the best of my understanding, John Horgan in this new role is fully compliant with all of the existing laws around lobbying,” Stone said, adding that he knows Horgan as a person of integrity.
“With all due respect to my friend Adam Olsen, and he is a friend, I wonder if Adam would be saying the same thing if John Horgan was going to work for the Sierra Club.”
Olsen disagrees with that notion, and said the issue is the unique knowledge that a senior-decision maker like Horgan now brings to a private company.
“The thing that a lot of people are concerned is the information and knowledge that he has, is unique to the premier,” Olsen said. “He has been briefed on everything.”
In 2017, then-attorney general David Eby introduced a cooling off period for certain public office holders. Former cabinet ministers and their staff, former parliamentary secretaries, and former senior officials in government departments and Crown corporations are prohibited from lobbying for two years after the date on which they left office.
Horgan’s future role does not make him a lobbyist per se and he is free to work after his political career, but his move nonetheless feeds a larger perception, Olsen said.
“It feeds into the narrative that [politicians] are just looking out for ourselves,” he said.
Horgan becomes the latest premier to find himself in the corporate sector after retiring from politics. Christy Clark’s current job title is senior advisor for Bennett Jones LLP and serves on several boards, including Shaw Communications. Clark’s predecessor Gordon Campbell serves on the board of the Equinox Gold. Former New Democratic premier Glen Clark worked for more two decades for Jim Pattison, considered by many B.C.’s most successful entrepreneur.
Black Press Media has reached out to Horgan for further comment.