Gordon Campbell showed mettle
No one can claim that former British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell wasn’t willing to take one for the team. Last week, the increasingly unpopular premier resigned due to rising public malevolence over the province’s decision to implement the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). This is a huge loss as Campbell is the definition of a politician who was willing to make unpopular decisions for the good of the province; a rarity in politics nowadays.
Although shrouded in the dark mist of the HST that now looms over his head, Campbell should walk into the sunset with his head held high. For all his mistakes over the past few months, Campbell’s tenure has been marked with many bold policy initiatives that should raise his legacy out of the ashes.
After assuming office in 2001 following intense dissatisfaction with a wildly unpopular NDP government, Campbell looked like a stud coming out of the gate fast. He became the model of fiscal conservatism in a province where provincial spending was out of control. The province reaped reward after reward under this new model of political management.
British Columbians were spoiled with 25 per cent across the board tax cuts, corporate tax cuts and reductions to a bloated civil service. His policies with regards to education, especially in his first term, should be the standard to which all provincial governments should follow. Anti-strike legislation, massively increased post-secondary enrolment and the replacement of the provincial tuition freeze with a capped growth tuition model were all home run policies. Campbell was able to trump himself in his second term too. His job creation and unemployment rate records were the best, by far, of all the provinces.
By his third term, however, the extended honeymoon ended. Public resentment over the implementation of a provincial carbon tax started the slippery slope that would become Campbell’s political demise. Nearly a year-and-a-half later, he sprung the HST on the public after specifically pledging it wasn’t on the radar during the election and it was all downhill from there. Public support for Campbell plummeted to single digits and many from his own cabinet refused to put their support behind him once the HST came to fruition.
Many believe that Campbell’s resignation has once again handed the keys to the premier’s office to Carole James and the NDP. It’s unclear the route that the BC Liberal Party will take in terms of selecting the next leader and how they will tackle the HST elephant in the room. The one thing that’s clear is that they can’t run away from Campbell and his record. The BC Liberals are lucky that Campbell suffered from Ralph Klein’s disease; his poll numbers were drastically lower than that of the parties and the two weren’t complementary. Campbell’s resignation should only be a benefit and the emergence of a new leader should have party supporters energized once again.
Despite Campbell’s downfall, his overall record still speaks for itself. He put British Columbia back on track to becoming economically competitive and sustainable and no premier in Canada can say they have done more to further the cause of preventing climate change. Unfortunately, public opinion is often blinded by the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately attitude, and what Campbell has done lately just doesn’t cut it.
There was a reason Campbell won three consecutive mandates, one of which being the biggest margin of victory in the history of the province. Campbell brought about sorely needed change with bold policy initiatives, many of which have left BC more prosperous and attractive to outsiders than ever before. He also knew how to make hard decisions, like the HST, for the good of the province even though they made him extremely unpopular towards the end of his tenure. It’s through decisions like these that true political leaders show their mettle and hopefully, once the cloud of anger regarding the HST has passed, British Columbians will see it too.