Gordon Campbell leaves with his popularity at its nadir, but he will be judged as one of the great premiers of British Columbia. Almost his entire professional life was spent as a political staffer or politician, but as a provincial leader, Mr. Campbell never settled for incremental transactionalism - he has consistently pushed the boundaries of the possible, in terms of both politics and policy.
Remember that the B.C. Liberal Party he took over in 1993 had not won an election in over 50 years. With the NDP and Social Credit imploding, he could have passively sat by. But he did more than this, taking the party on a sharp ideological turn in light of the province's economic woes, and, in the process, realigning the whole party system in the province.
Mr. Campbell's preference for the bold over the timid was evident throughout his mandate. He was a consistent advocate for the Vancouver/Whistler 2010 Winter Olympics bid. He tackled the question of how politicians are elected, with a citizen's assembly and referendum on electoral reform, even though it was not necessarily in his own party's interest. He brought in a carbon tax and was one of the first fiscal conservatives at the provincial level to champion the fight against climate change.
He also transformed the province's finances and is beginning to change the way health care is delivered, although the price - fights with the public service - was sometimes great. By introducing the Harmonized Sales Tax, he set the stage for further economic growth, at a potentially lasting political cost.
Mr. Campbell also showed an admirable capacity to change his own beliefs. He took a predominantly antagonistic relationship between the province and aboriginal peoples, a sentiment he has shared and fuelled in his early years as party leader, and upended it as Premier. He didn't just recognize the need to get aboriginals on board to develop the province's resources; he showed them a respect that they had never seen, concluding new land deals, making aboriginal participation integral to the Olympics, and emerging as a key national spokesman for the Kelowna Accord.
His government was harmed by some of the legacies of B.C. political life, such as political corruption and personal difficulties experienced by its premiers. But Mr. Campbell's record of public service and his transformation of public policy in British Columbia will benefit its residents for many years to come.
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