ROUSING THE RABBLE: Will Campbell make a good high commissioner?

Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell will soon become Canada’s high commissioner to Britain. Does his resume warrant the appointment?

If you are a career politician and you screw up and have to leave your position, the opportunities for future work appear limitless.

That certainly is the case with one of the most unpopular premiers B.C. has ever had to tolerate, former premier Gordon Campbell.

Campbell will soon become Canada’s high commissioner to Britain, one of the highest positions in the Canadian diplomatic core. In the capitals of commonwealth countries, the office is called a high commission and is headed by a high commissioner – in other countries the office is usually known as an embassy.

Campbell’s 27-year career in provincial politics was a checkered one but regardless what he did, voters willingly gave him the benefit of the doubt.

He was not what one would call a good role model. He embarrassed his family and friends when he was arrested for driving while intoxicated in Hawaii. He lied to voters about BC Rail, BC Hydro and the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) and he had his own agenda and followed it without concern for its effects.

Campbell’s political career began as mayor of Vancouver.  He moved from there to the leadership of the Liberal party and eventually to the premiership of the province. His stint as premier lasted nine years but his supporters eventually had enough of him when he implemented the HST, something he promised he would not do when he campaigned.

Reports from those who knew Campbell well tell us that he was a despot as Liberal leader and premier; he made the decisions and his cabinet had to support them.

They knew that if they didn’t they could lose their jobs. In many ways his behaviour was like that of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Both believe in ruling with a heavy hand.

Campbell and Harper love power and unabashedly use every means at their disposal to implement their policies even if it means misleading the electorate to do so.

A major criticism of Campbell’s leadership, when he occupied the mayor’s chair in Vancouver, was his lack of attention to social issues such as the need for housing the homeless in the city and the need for improved public transit. Had they both been tackled when he was mayor, they would be less severe today.

Premier Christy Clark was reported to be happy with Campbell’s appointment as high commissioner particularly because of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) negotiations that are going on between Canada and the European Union. CETA is the kind of agreement that Campbell loves, although it is fraught with stringent restrictions on Canadian municipalities and social institutions. We will be reminded for some time about Gordon Campbell’s time as premier. His presence will be felt in several ways. The Site C Dam revival, the Gateway and Deltaport projects, the carbon tax, Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT), a dysfunctional BC Hydro, numerous so-called run-of-river independent power projects and health care and education systems that are struggling for funding to provide services.

As premier, Campbell worked from the premise that the province was an energy powerhouse and he seized every opportunity to get that message across when he made trips to China and Europe. He was also a strong advocate of privatization of public services.

A major difficulty with appointments to international posts is that the citizenry knows very little about what the people who hold such positions are doing and saying on their behalf. If Campbell follows well-established, behavioural patterns, we surely will not be kept informed about his activities.

As Canadians, we can only hope that Campbell represents our best interests at all times in the position of high commissioner, something he did not do well for British Columbians.

– Roy Ronaghan is a columnist for the Grand Forks Gazette