When Abbotsford was in the midst of devastating flooding, British Columbia Premier John Horgan was in a battle of his own with throat cancer.
Horgan was diagnosed with the disease in early November and was unable to attend briefings or meetings in person, meaning in mid-November he could not make the trip to Abbotsford to see the disaster firsthand or offer support face to face.
Tuesday (March 22) offered Horgan the opportunity to visit Abbotsford and the Fraser Valley for the first time in 2022 and meet with those impacted by the flooding.
Horgan’s first stop was Abbotsford-based Westberry Farms, a top blueberry producer. He then met with local leaders Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun, Abbotsford-Mission MLA Pam Alexis and members of the Gateway Community Church, who provided critical relief during the flood.
— Ben Lypka (@BenLypka) March 22, 2022
Horgan told The News that he physically feels fine and is on the road to recovery. He noted that his treatment has left him with no saliva and he joked he now knows just how important saliva is.
Despite being unable to meet in person, Horgan stated that he and Braun remained in contact during the flood event. He noted that Deputy Premier Mike Farnworth stepped in and joked that Braun and Farnworth became close.
“So now Henry and Mike have become best friends,” he said. “And I’m a bit jealous because I was the first NDP premier to make friends with the mayor of Abbotsford.”
Horgan stated that people like Braun and Alexis helped Abbotsford and the Fraser Valley survive the flood and is eager to continue that work with them.
“It’s really important for the province to have these kinds of voices in government and I’m honoured to have them by my side,” he said. “Henry and I have developed a relationship over five years now and it’s good knowing that we can work together to find solutions to problems because governments – whether it’s federal, provincial or council – is always about solving problems.”
He said the flood was another challenge his government has faced, pointing out the pandemic and the harrowing fires over the past summer as other major issues. But he said there were positive moments. He felt his team and those on the ground responded well.
“Everyone had to work together; it was neighbours helping neighbours and it was inspiring to watch from far away,” he said.
Braun said before, during and after the flood that senior levels of government need to help out municipalities in catastrophic events. Horgan said he and Braun were going to be talking more about that kind of help, but also praised Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his assistance to the region during the disaster.
Horgan and Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee also spoke recently to offer more solutions to the flooding issues.
“We’ve signed an agreement to work collaboratively on water issues with respect to the Nooksack (River) and other cross-border issues,” he said. “We already have the Columbia River Treaty – which is well-known and critical to both countries and both Washington and B.C.’s economy – and we also have the Skagit Valley agreement that is important to drinking water in Seattle. I was very impressed with Gov. Inslee, and his team were so moved on events north of the border to the point where we want to collaborate on these issues. It’s still very early, but we have agreed that we have to do it together.”
Horgan said establishing that working relationship with Inslee and the Washington State government will be key to solving potential flooding issues.
Another looming important issue for Horgan in the region is Highway 1. He said that was another example of listening to the people in the region and acting on it. Initially the plan was only to expand lanes to 264 Street, but feedback from locals and meeting with Braun led him to decide to increase the lane extension to the Whatcom Road exit. The project is slated to be completed in 2026.
“When I met with Henry and his council and other business leaders, they laid it out pretty clearly,” he said of the need to expand to Whatcom. “This is a fast-growing part of the province, and the transportation needs not just benefit a few people, but also the entire community, region and the country as a whole.”
Horgan was also asked about the rumours of the province being a part of the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Horgan initially was cool on the idea, saying that FIFA was a challenging organization to work with, but the pandemic seems to have changed his thinking.
“Inviting the world to come to the Lower Mainland to see B.C. would be a real shot in the arm for our tourism sector,” he said, noting that Minister Melanie Mark is looking into the possibility of hosting games. “I’m hopeful it’s not just going to be a blank cheque. As a sports fan and someone who knows that our tourism industry has been rocked, it’s an opportunity that we don’t want to just let go by.”
Horgan’s plans for the remainder of the day were to visit a dairy farm and then meet community leaders in Chilliwack.