Is it fair to characterize Premier John Horgan as "anti-science"?

It's an important question, given how high the stakes are with COVID-19, the continuing overdose crisis, and global heating

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      I'll start this column by offering some positive comments about Premier John Horgan.

      First off, he seems more concerned about the cost of living for average folks than any B.C. first minister in a generation.

      His government has limited rent increases in the face of lots of howling from landlords.

      I know—the critics will say that he hasn't introduced vacancy control, which caps increases on units after people move out of a suite.

      But for many long-term tenants who never plan on moving out of purpose-built rentals, including seniors, Horgan has been a blessing.

      Horgan also scrapped tolls on the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges. Again, this has elicited criticism, this time from those who think road tolls are an effective public policy to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and make users pay for roads. But it saved a lot of money for motorists in the Northeast Sector and the Fraser Valley, some of whom are low income.

      Under Horgan's rule, B.C. Hydro rates have likely not increased as they would have under the B.C. Liberals.

      Horgan's government also took on the lawyers to drive down ICBC costs. Yes, this also elicited criticism from those who think that his government's no-fault system will screw innocent victims of motor-vehicle crashes who are maimed for life. But it sure made ICBC premiums a lot cheaper.

      Moreover, ferry fares have also not escalated like they repeatedly did under the B.C. Liberals.

      The granddaddy of them all, as far as average folks are concerned, is probably the elimination of medical services premiums. Now, employers foot the bill.

      Horgan came by his empathy for the working class honestly. He was raised by a single mother and his school chums came from families that weren't drenched in money.

      But now, let's get to the headline on this article. Is John Horgan "anti-science"?

      It's a claim repeatedly made on social media by Richard Kinar, a long-time advocate for safer sports in Canada, notwithstanding Horgan's oft-stated love for Star Trek and The Big Bang Theory TV shows.

      Why would a cancer survivor spurn a mask for indoor group selfies?

      Clearly, this premier fails to understand aerosol science. 

      That's demonstrated by him continuing to gather with people indoors without a mask even though he recently survived a second bout with cancer. Let's hope that his family can intervene for the sake of his health.

      It's unclear whether Horgan realizes that people can be reinfected with the Omicron variant two months after previous infection.

      He also hasn't talked about COVID-19 being a vascular disease, which can present itself as a respiratory illness in the early stage. Is he even aware that as a COVID-19 survivor, he still could suffer neurological and cardiovascular complications?

      He even suggested at one point that people feeling anxiety over the lifting of mask mandates should carry hand sanitizer with them. That drew plenty of guffaws over Twitter. 

      In addition, Horgan has never spoken in favour of relatively low-cost interventions—such as Corsi-Rosenthal boxes, HEPA filters, and carbon-dioxide monitors—to help stem the spread of COVID-19 in classrooms.

      When it comes to COVID-19, the premier certainly has far more in common with blue-collar convoy protesters than those who've spent their careers studying aerosol science.

      Then, there was Horgan's appalling response to the overdose crisis in 2020, where he talked about how "choices...become dependencies".

      "Once people make those choices, they are no longer in a position to stop making those choices without intervention," Horgan said.

      He later apologized. But the premier's callous comments demonstrated a lack of understanding about the root causes of addiction, which include everything from brain biochemistry to trauma. Again, Horgan seemed ignorant of the science.

      His government continues putting up barriers to people obtaining the safe supply of the types of drugs that they feel they need. Since Horgan became premier in 2017, there's been a lot of Father Knows Best from this provincial government rather than hearing what users and addiction researchers believe are the most appropriate responses to save lives.

      What about the climate?

      Horgan also demonstrated his propensity for foot-in-mouth disease with his early comments about the heat wave last summer.

      "Fatalities are a part of life," he said, before quickly apologizing.

      B.C.'s premier could never be characterized as a climate keener.

      In opposition, Horgan was part of a crowd of NDP MLAs who opposed North America's first carbon tax.

      Early in his career as a politician, he railed against high gas prices in the legislature—when they weren't actually very high at all in comparison to Europe, where they take the climate more seriously.

      Before that, Horgan was chief of staff to premier Dan Miller, a key architect of the rapid expansion of the northeastern B.C. gas industry. Horgan has described Miller as a mentor.

      In addition, Horgan has supported the liquefied-natural-gas sector with $6 billion in "incentives".

      He repeats the bluster of the oil and gas industry by claiming that LNG is a bridge fuel. He supported the Site C dam, which has ballooned in cost, to support the LNG sector.

      When it comes to climate science, I've never heard Horgan demonstrate any deep interest in how the narrowing temperature differences between the Arctic and temperate regions in summer are affecting the jet streams. That phenomenon will likely result in more deadly heat waves in B.C. in the future.

      He hasn't talked about how rising global temperatures increase water vapour in the atmosphere, leading to atmospheric rivers that pulverize B.C. with Biblical-style floods.

      I've seen no evidence that he's aware of the impact of rising sea levels and storm surges on rice production in Asia—but trust me on this, it's a huge concern.

      I know—Horgan's defenders will point to his government's support for rapid-transit projects, which are massive job-creation exercises for his blue-collar base. His defenders will also point to the CleanBC initiative—and its support for a transition to zero-emission vehicles—to argue that he cares about climate science.

      But CleanBC is also predicated in part on the notion that carbon capture and storage is somehow a magic bullet to the climate crisis. That's a highly questionable and risky proposition, given the stakes.

      Then, of course, there's the premier's continued support for logging old-growth forests, which serve as such magnificent carbon sinks and protectors of biodiversity. 

      In light of all of the public policy responses to the pandemic, overdose crisis, and climate breakdown, it is indeed difficult to argue with Kinar's proposition that B.C.'s premier is anti-science.

      The question then becomes: what do we do about this? Should there be an official science adviser to the premier to set him straight on these issues?

      I would be interested in hearing readers' responses because it's vital for the well-being of the province.