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Harper to pick former B.C. premier as Canadian envoy to Britain

Gordon Campbell jokes with reporters in Vancouver as he leaves his last official scrum as B.C. premier on Feb. 28, 2011.

JOHN LEHMANN/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell is going to London as Stephen Harper's pick to be the Canadian envoy to Britain.

Mr. Campbell abruptly quit the B.C. premier's chair last November after nine years in office, with his popularity levels sinking to basement levels after the introduction of the harmonized sales tax.

Now he'll take on one of Canada's top diplomatic posts as High Commissioner to Great Britain, according to sources.

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It's the second time that Mr. Harper has reached into the ranks of former premiers to serve as high-profile envoys. In 2009, he appointed Manitoba's former NDP premier Gary Doer as ambassador to Washington.

The appointment of Mr. Campbell, a Liberal premier, is less of a stretch across party lines, however - he was the leader of British Columbia's centre-right party, and rarely kicked up controversy with Mr. Harper's federal Tories.

The Prime Minister's Office refused to confirm the appointment, but sources said Mr. Campbell's appointment has been officially proposed to the British government, and an announcement is expected soon.

Mr. Campbell was forced to resign last November, just 18 months into his third term as B.C.'s premier. Mr. Campbell and his B.C. Liberal Party had sunk to single-digit popularity in the polls following the introduction of the harmonized sales tax just weeks after winning the 2009 election. The B.C. Liberal Party had stated during that election campaign that it was not considering the HST, but the government's growing deficit forced a rethink of that policy.

Mr. Campbell led British Columbia for almost a decade, and forged a new, co-operative relationship with Ottawa that allowed him to sign the Kelowna Accord with Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin and later a number of economic pacts with Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. By the end of his tenure, he had established one of the best working relationships of any premier with Mr. Harper.

"I congratulate him on his appointment, I think he is going to make a real contribution," said B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who won the Liberal leadership in February after Mr. Campbell's resignation.

"I think he will do great in representing Canada as we get into, in particular, negotiations with European Union and I think it's important we have a uniquely B.C. perspective at the table."

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‬The High Commissioner's job in London is one of the most prestigious in the Canadian foreign service, along with the U.S., France, the United Nations, and more recently, China.

It has usually, but not always, been held by a career diplomat, like the current High Commissioner, Jim Wright, who has held the post for five years. But political appointees have served there: Jean Chrétien sent former Liberal politician Roy MacLaren in 1996.

While they are common in the U.S. diplomatic world, political appointments are more rare in Canada, where they have often been criticized as weakening the professional foreign service. But in recent years, political appointees have become more common in the most high profile posts, and the norm in Washington: Prime Minister Paul Martin named former Liberal premier Frank McKenna, and Mr. Harper appointed former Tory finance minister Michael Wilson.

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About the Authors
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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