Canadian political deaths come in many forms. Some are quick and painless, such as the shuffling of the bungling former federal Minister of Public Works, Alfonso Gagliano, from the cabinet to a comfortable ambassadorship in Denmark. Others, such as the incremental slide over the “Bingogate” scandal that eventually ended Mike Harcourt’s career in BC politics, are more uncomfortable for both participants and spectators Gordon Campbell’s recent DUI conviction should provide a particularly rare, and equally enjoyable, political spectacle; that of the politician strangling in a noose of his own devising.
Campbell campaigned long and hard in British Columbia against the admittedly embarrassing ethical standards set by the NDP government. While in opposition, Campbell vociferously criticized various NDP leaders and cabinet ministers for befouling the office of government and degrading the value of public service for future politicians. He was particularly adamant that ministers who were under investigation of criminal wrongdoing, regardless of their innocence or guilt, must step down. After winning in an overwhelming landslide in 2000, Campbell promised a “New Era for BC” that would feature a strict ethical code for all political transactions conducted by the new government. It is thus deeply satisfying for many to watch Mr. Campbell squirm around the rather obvious fact that he should either resign his position as Premier of British Columbia or go down in the political history books as the worst kind of hypocrite.
The problem for Campbell is that he’s surrounded by a herd of cats that, while currently protecting their leader, will not hesitate to turn on him once the polling data comes back and reveals that he is a liability and an impediment to the mishmash of political goals and desires his coalition contains. Campbell is being attacked on all sides, even by traditional right-wing allies like Rafe Mair and Norman Spector. Vaughn Palmer, British Columbia’s resident media attack dog, has also fixed his sights on Campbell. Glen Clark and Mike Harcourt are among a large group of former BC politicians and public figures who can attest to the extreme discomfort that Mr. Palmer’s attentions can produce.
Perhaps even more scandalously, one need only look at the face of Nancy Campbell, the Premier’s intelligent wife, during his press conference for confirmation that more trouble is on the way for the Premier. She wore the same look of simmering distaste that Hilary Clinton made famous during her time as U.S. First Lady. Rumours abound that Campbell was not in Hawaii to “do some reading” but instead to engage in other extracurricular activities, and Ms. Campbell’s hostile body language displayed at the January 12th press conference would seem to indicate that there could be something behind these rumours. But I digress.
The surest sign that Gordon Campbell is in the deepest kind of trouble is the fact that his usual array of apologists in the media have been laughably ineffective in his defence—or silent. On an afternoon call-in show with Kathleen Petty on CBC Newsworld, Barbara Yaffe spend a solid hour trying to confuse the issue by raising Ralph Klein’s charming habit of berating the homeless while drunk, Jean Chretien’s supposed misbehaviour associated with “Shawinigate”, and even Rene Levesque’s unfortunate habit of running over vagrants in Quebec while sauced. Even less effective was the Vancouver Sun’s editorial board, Premier Campbell’s chief source of print propaganda for the “New Era” revolution in BC. Monday’s editorial amount to an argument that Premier Campbell shouldn’t resign, unless he has to, and then he should. Huh?
Finally, and perhaps most laughably, on Don Newman’s Politics leadership roundtable, former Alliance strategist Rick Anderson tried to defend Campbell’s actions in the context of what effect his resignation might have on future politicians. According to Anderson’s reasoning, by demanding Campbell’s resignation because of a simple personal mistake, criminal or not, we risk discouraging future politicians from participating in public life. As he argued, we’re simply setting the bar too high and will not get the kind of quality people involved in politics that are necessary in order to produce a properly functioning political system. That’s right – we’re setting the bar too high by suggesting that, perhaps, politicians shouldn’t get drunk and drive. I suppose if we follow Mr. Anderson’s logic to its, well, “logical” conclusion, the Alliance should be actively recruiting Karla Homolka after she completes the paperwork on her release from jail. After all, it was only a simple private mistake and shouldn’t affect her ability to contribute to public life.
The fact of the matter is, aside from the personal scandal that seems poised to develop as a result of his rumoured marital transgressions, Gordon Campbell’s political death should be all but inevitable. I don’t think it’s “setting the bar too high” to ask politicians to live up to a higher ethical standard than the average citizen. While I happen to think that Gordon Campbell is a deplorable human being and have held him as a political enemy for the past eight years, I did support the stringent ethical standards he made the centrepiece of his party’s electoral platform.
Citizens have the right to demand more than we’ve been getting from our public officials, who are responsible for billions of our dollars as well as the shape of our society and its future course. Thankfully, it seems that the people of British Columbia agree, judging by the volume of anti-Campbell sentiment in the wake of his Hawaiian adventure. It’s a rare pleasure to watch a politician hung from the very gallows he or she built, but it’s one that we’ll all get to indulge in shortly.
January 13th, 942 w.