B.C. premier resigns

VICTORIA (CUP) — B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell has stepped down as leader of the provincial Liberal party this week, leaving many around the province mystified — and others celebrating.

Campbell announced his resignation in Vancouver on Nov. 3, stating that “it’s time for a new person to lead” and that he would be making a “smooth and orderly transition” for the next leader and premier.

“After considerable soul searching and discussion with my family I have decided to ask the B.C. Liberal Party executive to hold a leadership convention at the earliest possible date to select a new leader for our party,” Campbell said, in a statement released on Nov. 4.

“Over the last few weeks, our government has continued to move forward with initiatives that will create jobs, build a stronger economy and support families across British Columbia … yet it is clear to me that those initiatives are being overshadowed. When public debate becomes focused on one person, instead of what is in the best interest of British Columbians, we have lost sight about what is important. When that happens, it’s time for a change.”

During his announcement, Campbell noted the fallout from the introduction of HST and other issues, though he would take no questions about the resignation.

Now, the party has less than a month to meet and then hold a leadership convention within six weeks. While the B.C. Liberal Party has denied the idea that there was any internal push to remove Campbell, pundits are saying this “facelift” may come too late to return voter sympathy to the party.

“Campbell was coming in at nine per cent in the polls, and the B.C. Liberals were barely in the 20 per cent range. So now, it’s the same old story — lop off the head of the beast, and now it’s a new beast,” said Dennis Pilon, a political science professor at the University of Victoria. “The challenge for the Liberals now, however, will be if Campbell tainted the pot too deeply.”

The party’s weak approval rating was clear in Victoria on the day of the announcement. News crews could be found wandering throughout the city asking bystanders how they would remember Premier Campbell. While some offered heartfelt messages of satisfaction about Campbell’s decision, others whooped and hollered, walking away laughing.

“Good riddance,” one man said, with a laugh.

Pilon says that while the move could have been a smart one on the part of the party, it’s still unclear as to who will be best-suited to take up Campbell’s position — a lesser-known Liberal may stand more of a chance, he says.

“The Liberals have learned that, if they can avoid fracturing the vote into other parties, they can win every election,” Pilon said. “Campbell had a lot of puppet followers within the party, however, and people will see that. Liberals like Rich Coleman and Kevin Falcon are too far to the right … but someone from the outside could legitimately look like a fresh face who wasn’t involved with all the mess.”

Pilon also suggests that Campbell’s quiet resignation could ensure him offerings — like a possible seat in the Senate — that would be harder to obtain with more party failure or a troublesome outing.

NDP leader Carole James, head of the official opposition, says that the resignation did not come as a surprise to her at all, and she believes it was the right decision.

“Premier Gordon Campbell resigning seemed inevitable to me. It wasn’t a matter of if, but when,” she said.

“The next interesting time to watch, however, will be to see the B.C. Liberals try to convince the public that everything is different now, which is, of course, going to be impossible.”

James says the party’s 10-year record of disappointing the public with issues surrounding HST, the environment, low minimum wage and child support isn’t something that can be forgotten with a new face.

“All those tough questions will be waiting there for the next person who fills the spot — no matter who it is,” James said. “In this province, there’s the sentiment that people vote out governments. But my job is to make sure people know there’s something to vote for, too.”

James says that while an election could now come sooner than previously expected, the opposition will be ready for it. In the meantime, she says she doesn’t envy the Liberal who steps up to fill Campbell’s shoes.

“There are a lot of people who line up to take over in the good times, but what really counts are the ones who can step up in the bad times,” she said.

“We’ve got all the strength we need in British Columbia … we just haven’t taken advantage of it yet.”

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