For five years, Don Wright had his dream job as president of the B.C. Institute of Technology – until he decided to give it all up at the prospect of being deputy minister in Adrian Dix’s NDP government.
Confident of victory, Mr. Dix had appointed Mr. Wright, who then quit BCIT. Things didn’t go quite as Mr. Wright, Mr. Dix and thousands of New Democrats had hoped last Tuesday.
From February, when Mr. Dix announced Mr. Wright’s commitment, until election night, Mr. Wright was working on a transition from a B.C. Liberal government to a government that now exists only in the imagination of New Democrats.
Yet the former deputy minister in various ministries in Saskatchewan and B.C. is rather sanguine about the whole situation.
Anyone looking at this would say, “Holy smoke. He left his job. How is he going to pay the bills?”
I’ll be fine. I have actually been very lucky in life. I am in a happy position where I don’t have to work. I want to work if I can make a positive contribution and have some fun along the way so I’ll be fine.
How did this all come about?
Adrian and people in his office had come to consult me about the skills agenda. As president of BCIT, they thought I had some useful advice in that regard. They were consulting lots of people about the skills agenda and some other things. Over time, they took my advice on forests policy because they knew I had a history in forestry. The relationship just kind of developed from there. Shortly before Christmas, I had dinner with Mr. Dix and he asked me if I would do it.
Was it a quick decision to say yes?
I needed to think about it and, in fact, Adrian encouraged me to think about it. I actually expected my wife would not have been keen about the idea because I expected her to say, ‘You’re 58. We’re at that stage in life where we can be starting to slow down and enjoying things.’ She surprised me. She said, ‘You’ve got to say yes to this. If you have been offered this position and turned it down, you would always regret it.’ That crystallized it in my mind.
Had you been planning to leave BCIT in any event?
It was a twist in my career that I didn’t expect. I actually had just agreed less than a year previously to a five-year extension in my contract at BCIT and I loved my time at BCIT.
What’s next for you?
I’m heading, with my family, down to Boston next week to attend our daughter’s wedding. That’s what I am going to be focusing on, and I suppose I might add it will probably be a more relaxed and enjoyable event than if the election had gone the other way and I was starting to worry about the transition to government. I’ll come back from Boston and sit down and think what I want to do with the next chapter of my career.
Were you confident you would get to see your transition work enacted?
I took the position on knowing full well there was a risk that the NDP would not win the election. While the polls were strong at that time, elections in B.C. are historically quite close and the NDP have won fewer than they have lost so I knew there was a real risk that it might not happen. I happily took on that risk. Sometimes you have to be prepared to stick your neck out a little bit.
There at home watching the results, when was the moment you saw the outcome of the election, and what did you think?
I was very surprised as were most people. My feelings were a mixture of being naturally disappointed because I was excited about the prospect of being able to head up the public service. And I felt very badly for Adrian and the people around him because I just knew how hard they had worked and the integrity they brought to the process.
What life lesson would you extract from this whole experience?
You have to be prepared to take some risks in life. They should be calculated risks. They shouldn’t be reckless risks. But at the end of the day, when you look back on your career, you’re going to want to say you did the best that you could and you did it with integrity and you were prepared to take some risks.
Have you had a chance to speak to Mr. Dix?
I did speak to him briefly. He obviously is very disappointed in the outcome, but it is a measure of him that when he talked to me, he was more concerned about me than he was about himself. He said, ‘I really feel badly for you because you took a personal risk, and I didn’t deliver.’ I did my best to tell him he shouldn’t feel that way.
This interview has been edited and condensed.