Roughneck Mag

Why (All) Politicians Act As They Do

By Scott Jeffrey

At the beginning of their careers, most politicians are fired with an almost religious zeal when it comes to serving the public. Even the lawyers, who make up an alarmingly disproportionate percentage of all politicians, originally enter politics with the desire to serve the common good. Sure, they’re self-centred, narcissistic, attention-seeking power mongers, but in the main they are fired with the desire to “make a difference.”

What happens then when they get elected? The answer is in the question- they get elected. No matter how well meaning they are when they get elected, the sad fact is that they eventually sink under the weight of historical precedence. No matter the party, they are pressed to conform, to accept the perks, to do what is expedient, and above all, to do what it takes to stay in power.
This preamble brings me to the current imbroglio between British Columbia and Alberta, Horgan and Notley,NDP and NDP.

Let’s meet John Horgan. If you saw him in The Keg, where he used to work before he started to acquire his political chops, you couldn’t have met a nicer guy. I’m sure he was very courteous, was a good server, and recycled all the swizzle sticks and napkins that he had to clean up after his satisfied patrons left the restaurant.
He had bigger steaks to fry though, and it didn’t take him long to enter the topsy-turvy world of B.C. politics, working for the NDP. He spent some time in Ottawa working for two B.C. MPs, and then came back to his home province. Through the ‘90s, he enjoyed positions of increasing responsibility, including work on hydro related projects with Columbia River Trust. After 1998 he even spent a short time in the private sector, working for Columbia Power and focusing on the re-powering of the Keenlyside and Brilliant dams. He then went to work for Dan Miller (six months as B.C. premier) as an ADM in finance, focusing on energy projects. This lasted until 2001, when the NDP were ousted, and he spent the years until his appointment as leader in serving his constituents in the constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca.

My point in outlining Horgan’s resume is that he should understand a few things- like finance, hydroelectric power, and other forms of energy, like oil and gas. He should also understand parts of the private sector, as in how it helps to fund his and all other governments. He has done his part in allowing the massive Site C hydroelectric project to proceed, although he blamed the Liberals for advancing the project to such a degree that it couldn’t be cancelled. Presumably he saw the monetary advantages of oil and gas projects in northeast B.C., and he can’t have forgotten that his former boss (remember Dan Miller) was a strong proponent of pipelines to move Alberta oil and gas to tidewater.

So why isn’t he onside with the obvious advantages of expanding pipeline capacity through the Trans Mountain system? Why is he seemingly defying both federal and provincials approvals of the much needed project? The answer lies in the phrase “do what it takes to stay in power.”

As well meaning as he might be, he understands that to retain power he has to play the game with his coalition partner, Andrew Weaver of the Green Party. Regardless of what he can actually do to stop the project, he has to be “seen” to be doing all he can to make the province safe from the dirty and dangerous oil and gas industry. Despite apparently seeing the light with Alberta’s short-lived embargo of B.C. wine, Horgan has always seen that revenue, and increased revenue, is essential to keeping other political promises. However, there is always the default to the first rule of politics- “do what it takes to stay in power”.

Staying in power would be so much easier if it wasn’t for those inconvenient campaign promises, and the public’s infuriating penchant for remembering them. Some are impossible to keep, and they know it when they make them. They just have to find ways to weasel out of those promises, all the while saying they’ve done all they can.
Alberta’s Notley has to perform the same dance. Almost three years into her mandate, she has to face the sobering reality that the industry she tried to cripple with ill-timed initiatives now needs her unflagging support. And so, in an all-out effort to stay in power, she is actually doing the right thing.

Horgan is new to his mandate, but he faces daily challenges to his position as Premier. If he can’t keep his fragile coalition together, he’s gone tomorrow. Nothing can be more frightening to a career politician. He will cave on any number of promises based on the challenges related to governing the whole province, but he will always hold true to the Prime Directive, which I have mentioned too many times to have to repeat here.

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