Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell officially ended his career in provincial politics Tuesday, announcing he’s vacating his Vancouver seat, prompting a renewed outpouring of tributes and barbs about his legacy.
But even Mr. Campbell’s last act in politics bequeathed new life for his successor: Christy Clark was sworn in Monday as Premier, but does not have a seat in the legislature and she has said she might seek Mr. Campbell’s in a by-election.
Supporters called Mr. Campbell a thinker, builder and leader whose passion for British Columbia never wavered.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper commented on the strong bonds Mr. Campbell forged with the federal government during his decade as B.C. premier.
Prior to Mr. Campbell’s election win in 2001, federal-provincial relations between Ottawa and B.C. could be described as lukewarm at best and near dysfunctional at worst.
“Obviously, I want to reiterate what I said before, to thank Premier Campbell for his many years of service, not just to British Columbia, but for his strong support for a united Canada and his strong partnership with our government in moving Canada forward,” Mr. Harper said during a stop in Surrey, B.C.
He said Mr. Campbell’s contribution nationally was most obviously on display during last year’s Winter Olympics.
He wouldn’t comment on whether Mr. Campbell might receive a federal appointment.
“I don’t know what his comments are on his future plans, I have no comment on that myself. Those are decisions for him to make,” Mr. Harper said.
Ms. Clark said that Mr. Campbell suffered a few scrapes during his tenure as B.C. premier, but he leaves the province a better place than what he inherited.
“Gordon Campbell spent 27 years in public life in British Columbia and you don’t get out of public life without a few bumps and bruises,” she said.
“He served British Columbia, Canada and the City of Vancouver to the best of his ability and he has a great legacy for all of us.”
Ms. Clark, who served as Mr. Campbell’s deputy premier after the Liberals formed a government in 2001, appointed a slimmed down and drastically different cabinet.
Mr. Campbell issued a statement Tuesday thanking the people of his Vancouver-Point Grey constituency. He was first elected to the B.C. Legislature in 1993, and prior to that he was elected mayor of Vancouver for three terms.
“It has been an honour to serve the people of British Columbia as an MLA, as the leader of the opposition and as premier,” Mr. Campbell said in a news release. “There are few things more rewarding than serving in public life and I feel fortunate to have had such an opportunity to do so.”
Former B.C. attorney-general Geoff Plant, who spent time with Mr. Campbell last weekend, said he will remember his friend’s time in office as one full of ideas of ways to improve B.C.
“My experience with Gordon Campbell was always about conversations and vision and ideas about how British Columbia could realize its full potential,” Mr. Plant said. “He thought that potential was limitless.”
Mr. Campbell’s legacy is more than the big picture items – Olympics, Canada Line and the Sea-to-Sky Highway, Mr. Plant said. It’s also about the many smaller local projects, he said, including the William R. Bennett Bridge in Kelowna, the national non-fiction prize for literature and funding for the Vancouver East Cultural Centre.
“Everywhere you look, there’s something that bears his mark,” Mr. Plant said.
But B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair said that while Mr. Campbell’s legacy may include megaprojects built by B.C. workers, it created a deep polarization among British Columbians.
Mr. Sinclair said that Mr. Campbell’s low-tax, business-friendly agenda rewarded his friends in the business world, but his decision to not raise the minimum wage while increasing medical plan fees hurt low-income British Columbians.
“The wealthy in this province made out like bandits during this regime,” Mr. Sinclair said. “Corporations saw their taxes go down and down and down so much so they were astonished, and ordinary British Columbians were having a harder economic time.”
Mr. Sinclair noted that during Mr. Campbell’s time as leader, B.C. went from having the highest minimum wage in Canada and the highest cost of living to having the lowest.
“No raise for 10 years.”
In a remarkably candid interview during his final days in office, Mr. Campbell said he considered quitting politics in 2003 as he relived the public scandal that saw his mug shot plastered on front pages across Canada.
Mr. Campbell was arrested for drunk driving in Hawaii while on a holiday and spent a night in jail, later pleading guilty and having to face British Columbians who forgave him and re-elected him as premier in two subsequent elections.
Mr. Campbell also said he dropped the ball politically in July of 2008 when his government launched plans to introduce the harmonized sales tax.
Mr. Campbell’s early retirement announcement last November was an unstated admission that the HST blunder ended his political career. At that time, Mr. Campbell’s personal approval numbers were in the single digits and the Liberals were 20 points behind the opposition New Democrats.
In his final statement to the B.C. Legislature last month, Mr. Campbell called for more progress on aboriginal issues, especially in making aboriginals equal partners in B.C. society.
“There is a long journey for us to go, but I honestly believe in my heart that if British Columbians are not able to embrace a future that fully includes all first nations people, that fully includes all first nations children and that has the same dreams for them as we have for all British Columbians, we will fall far short of our true potential and true promise as a province,” Mr. Campbell said.
He also summed up the sacrifice and joy of serving British Columbians: “People have said to me: ‘Is it fun? Are you having a good time?’ And I have said to them: ‘Honestly, not so much.’ But I’ll tell you this: It is rewarding.”