Credit to Author: Hugh Dawson| Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2020 02:07:41 +0000
VICTORIA — Although Premier John Horgan met with reporters in the legislature press theatre Wednesday, he’d cancelled the opportunity the day before.
“I chose not to talk directly to you yesterday because of my personal feelings at the time,” said Horgan. “I think having 24 hours to reflect on the events was a better way forward.”
For starters, there were his reflections on protests, good and bad.
His NDP has its roots as a protest movement, Horgan noted. He recalled being taken to his first rally, a protest against nuclear testing in the Aleutians, when he was 11 or 12 years old. He has attended peaceable protest assemblies on the lawn of the legislature going back to the 1980s.
But what happened there this week was unprecedented.
“Yesterday was a day when people were denied access to their workplace, not because of their political views, but because they were seen as symbols of government,” argued Horgan. “That’s unacceptable to me and I know it’s unacceptable to a vast majority of B.C.ers.”
Having said that, the premier made a game attempt to discuss the contents of this year’s speech from the throne. But I doubt he expected it would divert media attention from the protests at the legislature.
The subsequent press conference, running the better part of 45 minutes, was mostly taken up with questions about the protests and what his government is and is not going to do about them.
On the issue that launched the protests in Victoria and elsewhere — the stand off with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs over the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline — Horgan said the government is trying to work with the First Nation “to address the complex issues of hereditary leadership.”
In Opposition, the New Democrats argued that the views of hereditary chiefs took precedence over those of elected band councils. Now, they emphasize how the pipeline was endorsed by elected band councils.
“I don’t think we changed our view,” replied Horgan. “I think what we’re doing now is trying to grapple, as a government, with what those different points of view mean to the people in that territory.”
But what the New Democrats said then about the paramount importance of hereditary leadership, the Wet’suwet’en chiefs are saying now. I wondered if the NDP’s earlier comments were just so much Opposition party B.S.
“There is a complex governance structure in place there and you know that,” replied Horgan. “I didn’t create that complex government structure. And to suggest that somehow the language we used two, three, four years ago, has somehow made this situation more explosive is just not fair, and it’s not true.”
In any event, “it’s up to the Wet’suwet’en to figure this out,” said Horgan. “These are issues we came to after thoughtful consideration, getting advice from the attorney-general’s ministry and a range of other people. … For the Wet’suwet’en to determine how they go forward, I think, is absolutely appropriate.”
But in the meantime, the protests will continue, a prospect Horgan pretty much conceded.
“(Tuesday) was a difficult day for us here at the legislature,” the premier acknowledged. “But it’s had ramifications right across the country.”
What to do? Horgan was clear about what he won’t do, namely lean on the police to clear the steps at the legislature or, for that matter, the streets, bridges and railway lines.
“I’ve thought about it a lot, not just over the past 24 hours,” said the premier. “I don’t want to live in a society where politicians direct police to take action against other citizens without appropriate reason for doing so. That’s why we have courts. That’s why injunctions are sought. But I do not want to be able to phone the police as the leader of the government and say, move those people off the bridge.”
Still, if the protesters who vacated the steps of the legislature Tuesday night were to return, Horgan insisted that a plan is being put in place to deal with them.
“I can’t get into great detail, but clearly, yesterday was a game changer for how we operate here at the legislature, of course, but also how prepared are we to ensure that dissent continues to be available to those who have a different point of view. But not at the expense of the rights and liberties of other people.”
He expanded on that point during question period, after Mary Polak, house leader for the B.C. Liberals, shared Internet documentation indicating that the protesters were targeting government offices for later in the week.
“Yes, government is working on a plan to address these issues,” replied Horgan. “I’m confident that the security personnel here have access to that material, but if you’re prepared to give us a copy, we’ll ensure that the appropriate authorities have them.”
Earlier in the day, Horgan had apologized to legislature staffers and others for “what they had to endure” while insisting “it was out of my control.”
Now he tried to reassure “all members of this place and all public employees working for the province” that there would be no repeat.
“There is a plan in place to protect them in the event that this type of activity continues. We’re absolutely prepared.”
As he spoke, news reports indicated that protests had erupted on the Granville Bridge in Vancouver, and across Canada. Notwithstanding the premier’s assurances at the legislature, the protests continued elsewhere unchecked.