He has a super soft spot for B.C., but former premier Gordon Campbell doesn’t miss it – yet.
Of all the cultural curveballs discovered on moving from B.C. to England, one has struck Gordon Campbell most acutely: being anonymous. Where it’s normal for strangers to catch one’s eye and smile while walking down a street back home, it’s rare here, notes the former premier, now Canada’s high commissioner to the U.K.
“Here, I’m obviously not visible; no one knows who I am,” he says with a laugh on a February day at Commonwealth Kitchen, metres from Canada House (the high commission’s cultural arm) in London’s Trafalgar Square.
Not that he’s complaining: anonymity is one perk of life away from politics, he adds. “To be able to do whatever you want, whenever you want and not be worried about who is going to be upset or concerned? It’s a nice thing,” the 64-year-old says over a dish of halibut, mussels and crab. “And it’s really nice to get your name back.”
However, while you can take the man out of B.C., you can’t take B.C. out of Campbell. “I have a soft spot for everywhere,” he says, diplomatically acknowledging his new role representing the entire nation; “it’s just softer for British Columbia.”
With the Summer Olympics looming this July in his adopted city, there is little doubt that he’s exporting knowledge from B.C.’s Winter Games. Canada House is ramping up to host the Olympic family as well as Investment Canada with its “aggressive strategy” to promote the country’s aerospace, resources, finance, energy, education and mining industries among others.
“The Olympics is a celebration not only of athletic excellence but of business excellence,” he insists, adding that Canada’s strong banking system amid the global economic melee has become an enviable calling card. “It will be great for Canadian companies.” Campbell enthuses that 200 Canadians from VANOC now work at LOCOG (London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) and numerous B.C. companies also landed Olympic-related work.
Beyond this, of course, Campbell’s radar is fixed on Canada’s push for an economic trade agreement with the European Union. Not only is it “an ambitious package,” but its success will have an impact on the nation’s negotiations with Korea, China and India: “They are looking to see whether Canada is willing to take the steps necessary to conclude a comprehensive agreement,” Campbell explains of the process, which aims to reach its final agreement this year before heading to 27 European countries for ratification.
With 2012 marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the high commissioner knows that he and his wife Nancy have landed here during a banner year – or what’s being called annus mirabilis. They’ve already been to the diplomatic reception at Buckingham Palace – a short ride from his residence at the other part of the high commission in tony Grosvenor Square – where he was “knocked out” by the Queen’s work ethic.
Sitting today at the restaurant of the Commonwealth Club (appropriately chosen by his head of communications, who joins us), he swiftly brings up both Canada and the U.K.’s desire for a “strong” Commonwealth. “There are real opportunities for reform and real opportunities for trade and creating educational and economic advantages for the members,” he continues in between spoonfuls of rhubarb-and-apple crumble.
Outside of work, the couple is “loving” London. They’ve been invited to dinner parties by the Dean of Westminster Abbey (other guests, he lets slip, included Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens), tours of the Houses of Parliament, the acclaimed Hajj show at the British Museum and the Group of Seven at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Theatre is a priority – although the need to book months in advance is another cultural departure. “I’m going to say yes to virtually everything,” Campbell adds.
As for politics in North America, where he has two sons and five grandchildren in Vancouver and L.A., Campbell remains tight-lipped. “If I wanted to comment,” he surmises, “I should have stayed in office.” So despite declaring a fondness for his native B.C., he insists there’s nothing he hankers after from home. “I just don’t miss it yet,” he adds, smiling.