Larry Campbell is going out on a high note. “This city loves me,” he proclaims during an October interview in his soon-to-be-former office in City Hall, and for the most part, he’s right.
Of course, not everyone’s a fan. He’s made a few enemies, but when he does stir up controversy, it never hangs around for long. Vancouver’s most popular mayor in recent history loved the job, but hated the hours. A typical day started at 7 a.m. with a pancake breakfast in some community centre and ended at 9 p.m., after handing out awards or giving a speech. Seven days a week. Now, he’ll fly to Ottawa every Monday morning and head back to his Point Grey home Friday evening, thankful that at least he’ll have his weekends free. You were a boxcar-plant worker, a Mountie, chief coroner, Da Vinci’s Inquest script writer, the mayor, now a Senator. You’re good with change. The coroner service affected me so much – from the point of view that life is short and death is long – and that makes you want to try everything. When you’re seeing 2,000 deaths per year, you recognize what ‘really bad’ is. It was the best job I ever had but from a psychological point of view, I couldn’t do it anymore. There was nothing else I hadn’t seen, but at the same time I had seen too much. I thought running for mayor would be interesting. It’s like going in a dogsled race – I thought it would be interesting, too, so I did that. Why not run for a second term? I came in with specific goals and had either accomplished them or they were well on their way, and quite frankly I was not having a great time with the people who were surrounding me. My plan was to go to Victoria and see Wally Oppal or go see the premier and ask them what they need done that’s really hard. Then I got a call in February asking if I’d consider a position in the Senate. What do you hope to accomplish in Ottawa? I’ve been asked to be on a committee on aboriginal issues and I’ve always had a great interest in that. We have to get these treaties in place and they have to be fair. There’s going to be a cost to pay for these lands. We took them. Also, I’d like to see marijuana controlled. Legalized? Like alcohol and tobacco, I’d like to see it controlled. I’d like to see more treatment and I’d like to see harm reduction become federal policy. The Senate is pretty staid compared to raucous municipal politics. You’re not known for holding your tongue. Will there be fireworks? Well, I’m not going to change myself, but I don’t know that I’d be calling anybody an idiot in the Senate. The whole atmosphere is much less adversarial. Less reason to fly off? I never fly off – I’m always controlled. But it would stop me from rising to the bait. Still, there’s lots going on that outrages me and I won’t stop from expressing my outrage. You’re sitting as a Liberal. Only because the NDP doesn’t recognize the Senate and the Conservatives are too far right to even consider. I would have no difficulty in speaking against the government, and I think they know that. I would go inside first, but if it was something I felt particularly strong about, I ’d have no difficulty going outside and talking about it. Do you think you’re viewed as a bull in a china shop? I see myself as a very pragmatic person who looks at things and talks about them if they really outrage me. There’s no hidden agenda with me. I’m always who I am. People may think I’m vulgar or coarse and maybe sometimes I am. A couple of times I haven’t been proud of my behaviour but I’ve always apologized for it. Such as? I’ve called people names. My worst moment as mayor was when I lost my temper with the bus riders’ union and called them losers. Civil unrest doesn’t get me too worried but when I went to leave a meeting, this woman kept blocking my way and I just lost it. Woodward’s, the Olympics and RAV are in the works, the city was just ranked No. 1 in the world – you’re leaving on a high. Yup, I’m going out at the top of my game. I could have won another election. I know this will sound pompous but you know what? This city likes me. I go to these civic events and I enjoy myself, I like having a glass of red wine with the people and dancing. That’s part of being mayor, but I’m 57 – I just couldn’t do it for much longer.