Premier presiding over a corrosive new lesson in class warfare

What is the most revealing element of politicians? Their ideas? Their policies?

Not even close: it’s their character. It’s their nature. It’s their innate emotional intelligence.

The best politicians understand that leadership requires governing even those who did not, do not and will not support them. The worst are what we call in sports bad winners, hell-bent to nose-rub the losers and buttress their support by targeting those who did not back them.

Deeply sorry to say, but the latter qualities are what we are discovering in short order with our premier, whose party did not so much win the election as stumble from second place into a makeshift alliance with another party holding a meagre three seats. This is hardly the mantle of authority, hardly a mandate for radical change, yet the BC NDP is governing as if the hair-splitting vote one year ago were a landslide.

What that election result optimally could have produced was humility and a recognition this was not the time to step hard with its foot on the neck of its opponents. But John Horgan seemingly could not help himself in helping his supporters wage upon their rage. Sixteen years in opposition has made emotions come out sideways in short order.

The result in recent weeks is a raw, coursing, unmistakable divisiveness cementing the province – ignorant of election mathematics, a reinforcement of polarized politics.

One would have thought the premier would have studied the role in his time in opposition and recognized that the leader-antagonist was passé. Indeed, his opportunity once he co-opted the three BC Green Party MLAs was to work across the aisle with the BC Liberals – they were immobilized by his GreeNDP alliance, so why antagonize them?

Instead, he has played retro politics. He has only made his opponents wail when he could have nursed them to sleep, only made enmity out of possible détente in a minority government.

His tactics to thwart the federally approved Trans Mountain pipeline – generally speaking, big city versus heartland – are his child-like upending of the board as checkmate looms. It will only make the project more expensive with no particular benefit accruing to the public if it is built.

His budget was a true wolf in sheep’s clothing, with the most sinister of the taxes barely noticed upon their announcement – but a wolf nonetheless.

Consider the misnomers: a “speculation” tax that was really a second-home tax, and a “school” tax that is less about schools and more about schooling homeowners with equity to pay big and often.

The school tax will be remembered as a class-conscious measure to vilify those who stand one day to benefit from years, even decades, of real estate asset appreciation. The homeowners are mostly longtime residents who had the foresight, but mostly the luck, to be in the right place at the right time. For that truly good fortune, the government has kicked them in the slats and mocked their protests.

These owners, like all citizens, have every right to be upset with a suddenly larger tax bill. It is misleading to note some can defer payment – it still must be paid, after all, and might even exceed their capital gains when all is said and done.

Sure, their problems might seem First World problems – what to do eventually with all that money – but they do not deserve the discredit of the province’s leader, the suggestion that some of the gains morally need to be given back, or that there are real sufferers out there who would give anything to be in their place.

Yes, I get it: it plays to an aching, home-seeking, struggling cohort. That is exactly the problem: it plays. It heaps sympathy and policy on the underdog, scorn and derision on the luckily positioned. It brooks the wrong style of leadership in an era in which we could use a difference at the top.

Horgan has found a new way to release his anger and debase his office – through class warfare. He has set himself up for yet another campaign clash of characters straight out of Central Casting. He, like Justin Trudeau, pledged politics would be done differently. Both have reverted repellently to form. 

Kirk LaPointe is editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver Media Group and vice-president of Glacier Media.