It came as a shock, even though it had been expected for some time. The mighty three term Premier had been felled — mostly by his own missteps, but with an assist to former Social Credit Premier Bill Vanderzalm and his populist anti-HST movement.
Gordon Campbell has been a total piece of work in his time in office — he leaves in his immediate wake an HST referendum which will take place next year and a cancelled BC Liberal convention which was to take place in a few weeks.
Campbell was the first, fully committed neo-liberal Premier of B.C. As Rafe Mair and Corky Evans often point out, the Campbell government sold off the assets of the province to private interests for short-term gain. The Socreds nationalized BC Ferries, the NDP had brought in public auto insurance and the ALR. From run-of-river projects to BC Rail to BC Ferries to weakening the Agricultural Land Reserve, Campbell undid decades of responsible stewardship of public resources. The Liberals had very little sense of the value of public ownership during their tenure.
In 1996, after taking over the Liberal party a few years earlier, he was ill prepared for the move to the provincial stage where he was outmaneuvered by Glen Clark in one of the closest elections in B.C. history.
After the NDP scandals, he cruised to victory in 2001 with an overwhelming majority. It was a hard time to be a New Democrat in those days.
I represented the NDP in Vancouver-Point Grey in that election against Gordon Campbell. It was more performance art than campaigning back then due to the unpopularity of the NDP after 10 years in power.
I can remember one morning standing on the Burrard Street Bridge with election signs and getting fingered by SUV drivers. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, even cyclists who were riding over the bridge would finger us. At an all-candidates meeting put on by the high tech industry, I started getting booed even before I opened my mouth. Just being associated with the NDP had that kind of effect on people. The Liberals cruised to victory with a 77-2 majority and did not even recognize the NDP as the official opposition which was widely viewed as an arrogant move. One of many in that divisive and charged first term.
How times have changed for the BC Liberals. Campbell was at a record low of 9% before his resignation — lower than Brian Mulroney, Bill Vanderzalm, George W. Bush and Richard Nixon at their lowest political ebb.
Campbell’s economic record is particularly appalling. While he cut taxes substantially and worked to create a tax friendly environment for business, every social indicator in the province headed in the other direction. Lowest minimum wage in Canada that didn’t increase once during his entire tenure. The highest child poverty rates in the country for seven years in a row. The highest seniors poverty rate in the country. Homelessness more than doubled during the tenure of the BC government. Students have faced increased tuition fees and record student debt loads. A referendum on aboriginal land claims that was terribly divisive.
As former NDP cabinet minister Bob Williams has noted, Campbell didn’t understand the difference between spending and investing. The Trade and Convention Centre was wildly overbudget. The sheer arrogance of approving a new roof for BC Place at a cost of $600 million during the biggest economic collapse since the Great Depression showcased a profound disregard for basic economic principles.
He was a developers Mayor and a developers Premier. Certain sectors benefited disproportionately. He also worked in private with his small cadre of trusted advisors and did his policy work on the fly. He expanded gaming whiling taking a sledgehammer to the arts.
The investments that needed to happen in the age of climate change did not meet the gravity of the times. The investments in public transit, particularly in Metro Vancouver where three rapid transit lines are needed (Evergreen, UBC and Surrey), there was very little movement. The 2010 Olympics distorted regional decision-making and investment decisions for many years. He leaves behind a legacy of a deeply divided province and a diminished civil society, not the ‘golden decade’ that the Liberals attemped to brand through political communications.
Goodbye, Mr. Campbell — and take your red mittens with you.