For 10 years, Martyn Brown was a zealous, hands-on kind of guy behind the scenes, as former Premier Gordon Campbell’s chief of staff. Since he stepped down, however, a kinder, gentler Mr. Brown has emerged. He is now calling for more civility in politics and an end to excessive partisanship. But don’t call him mellow. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Brown, 55, also launched a few zingers at his old boss’s successor, Christy Clark.
You had a reputation of being pretty partisan yourself. Why the change?
Well, I have described myself as a take-no-prisoners partisan. I think that was a fair characterization. But the longer you’re in government, you realize you need to have constructive relationships in order to achieve solutions. So it was a growing awareness that all the things you do in politics, because you’re partisan, prevent those types of understandings to occur.
But partisanship seems so basic to our political system.
Divergence of opinion and choice are essential. But you can be respectful. Party politics exist largely because parties have a vested interest in making sure there is no meeting of the minds with those who support other parties. I think that is anachronistic.
Would you rate Premier Christy Clark as overly partisan?
I think she is one of the most partisan premiers we’ve had in British Columbia. I think she is fundamentally misreading what people are expecting and hoping from her.
They want a new tone that is civil and respectful, which I think Adrian Dix has rightly cottoned on to.
He’s a very different Adrian Dix from the one I knew and saw, in opposition and as a staffer. But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I think he’s trying to change the tone. It’s the politically smart thing to do, because it’s the right thing to do, and a lot of people are giving him marks for that.
Is that a reason he’s doing better in leadership polls than Ms. Clark?
I think it’s most atypical and even shocking to think of an opposition leader significantly higher in the opinion polls as to who would be a better premier than the sitting premier. Normally, [the sitting premier would] enjoy that advantage. So she has to look in the mirror and answer why that is.
You’ve also called for less partisanship in the B.C. legislature. Isn’t that a faint hope?
One of the sad realities is that the legislature rewards conduct that isn’t becoming of any of its members. The way people deem they win question period is by getting on television, and the only way they do that is by saying something outrageous. That’s unfortunate, and when opposition parties have tried to engage more civilly, they are rapidly dismissed by the media. But if there were a code of conduct that set standards you have to uphold, that the Speaker would enforce, that would be a very different thing.
Any other changes you’d like to see?
There’s no reason you couldn’t involve members of the opposition in drafting legislation that wasn’t contentious ... even carving out a portion of the budget [for them]. You could provide a certain amount of money, say $50-million or $100-million, and give the opposition the capacity to say: This is one priority we think is really important. As far as I know, nobody in the Commonwealth does that. There’s no reason why these conventions can’t be breached.
On another matter, you’ve criticized Ms. Clark in the past over her approach to the Enbridge pipeline. What did you think of her recent encounter with Alberta Premier Alison Redford?
I thought her performance, the whole staged public-relations stunt, was a very sad indictment of her leadership and most disrespectful and harmful to the B.C.-Alberta relationship we’ve spent 10 years building. It will have profund repercussions that will be very difficult to surmount, just for partisan advantage. I also think it will be counter to Premier Clark’s best political interests. At the end of the day, people see through it.
The very thing she had going for her, coming into her job as Premier, was an air of authenticity. This just looks calculated. It looks insincere and disingenuous. The trust relationship that is so critical in these discussions is utterly compromised now. I don’t see how you repair that, except by example and time. Maybe Adrian Dix will have the first shot at that.
I think I detect a feeling that Gordon Campbell was better at this.
Well, we didn’t fall willy-nilly into positions. We knew what we were saying. We had thought about it. It wasn’t policy on the fly, and this is just poll-driven policy on the fly. Women, particularly, don’t respect that kind of conduct. I think the very group she was most interested in winning over will be the most turned off.
Well, given all that, can the Liberals still win the next election?
It would take a minor miracle at this point. All indications are, notwithstanding the collapse of the B.C. Conservative Party, which was perhaps predictable, the universe for the NDP is much, much larger than people have conceded, or understood. I think the current government isn’t doing anywhere near what it needs to do to reverse the tide of public opinion.
This interview has been condensed and edited.