B.C. Says Goodbye to Gordo

Without Gordon Campbell to kick around anymore, whatever ?will we do? In 1962 Richard Nixon faced reporters after losing the race to be governor of California. “Just think how much you’re going to be missing,” he told them. “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”?

When Darth Campbell fled the scene, Liberal poll ratings spiked.

Without Gordon Campbell to kick around anymore, whatever 
will we do?

In 1962 Richard Nixon faced reporters after losing the race to be governor of California. “Just think how much you’re going to be missing,” he told them. “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”

As it turned out, Nixon couldn’t even get that right. There was plenty of candy left in that pinata. But not Gordon Campbell. With his Liberal leadership coming to a close this month after 18 years, the target is finally coming off the premier’s back for good. It’s a disaster for some. Robbed of their favourite subject, married couples will discover they have nothing in common. Protesters will lie around the house, fat and satisfied. Imagine if Sylvester ever caught Tweety Bird. Six months later he’d be in a flea-infested alley, covered with mange and huffing catnip. 

The NDP understand that now. Once Darth Campbell announced his resignation, Liberal poll ratings jumped up like Charlie Sheen at an open bar. Robbed of their favourite meal, party members looked around and saw Carole James. Remember the movie Willard? I’ll summarize: train a rat pack to chew on things and eventually they might chew on you.

The departing premier can look back on some genuine accomplishments. Campbell managed the spectacular feat of uniting a habitually divided province, not once but twice. In 2001 his Liberals picked up an unprecedented 77 of 79 seats in the legislature. By last fall, Campbell had achieved another unheard of mark: a poll rating in the single digits. Statistically, the pool of Campbell supporters had fallen behind the percentage of teens who eat the recommended daily amount of vegetables. Like Nixon, who pulled off a crushing landslide victory in 1972 only to be forced out of the Oval Office two years later, Campbell had accomplished the kind of political dive that requires protective heat shields.

What was Campbell’s Achilles heel? Probably the perception that he was shifty. His brief 1996 campaign stint as a guitar-strumming, lumberjack-shirt-wearing folkie didn’t help. Policy reversals on gambling and BC Rail added to his weaselly image, and the HST flip-flop cemented it. Even on the way out of office, he added to the perception. In a last-gasp attempt to turn things around, he announced a 15 per cent tax cut. It didn’t work. So he resigned – and took back the tax cut. 

But if excessive flexibility impaired Campbell’s image, it also spoke to his better instincts. When Campbell assumed the leadership of the BC Liberals in 1993, he sounded like a very different politician. Consider his first choice for party slogan: “One law for all British Columbians,” a thinly veiled appeal to anti-native-land-claim sentiment. In his second term as premier, the Campbell government would negotiate and sign treaties with the Maa-Nulth, Lheidli T’enneh First Nation and Tsawwassen First Nation. Not all the treaties were ratified, but at least in terms of public rhetoric it represented a considerable distance travelled for Campbell. In hindsight it seems comparable to the rabidly anti-communist Nixon’s famous trip to China. It appeared that his time in office had transformed Campbell from right-wing political demagogue into mature provincial leader.

It also transformed him from tax cutter to tax champion. Brian Mulroney could have told him how that little shift generally works out. Three-letter taxes lead to four-letter words and eventually to retirement. 

Time has not been particularly kind to Mulroney or Nixon; there was a certain amount of historical revision, but today their names still tend to be emblematic of political villainy. And Campbell? He’s got to be optimistic. Disgraced B.C. premiers do not always fade away. Someday in the distant future, someone will want to launch a recall campaign against premier Bill Vander Zalm. Gordon Campbell will be ready.