Love him or hate him, it’s hard to argue that Gordon Campbell has not had an impact on British Columbia.
Of course, depending on where you stand politically, that impact has been very good or very bad. But the reality is—as it always is in politics—the record is not as good as he would have you believe and not as bad as his detractors say.
Economically, the province has done well under his watch — at least prior to the recent recession—but social programs have taken it on the chin and a few high-profile conversions have seen the him publicly flip-flop on issues.
When he swept to power in 2001, his first move was to make a massive tax cut. Politically popular, it sent provincial revenues into a tailspin and can be seen 10 years later as the beginning of the march to B.C.’s biggest debt level ever.
During his time as premier, Campbell also appeared to flip on his view of native affairs. Going from the only Canadian premier to ask the non-native majority to vote on the future rights of the native minority in an ill-fated referendum, he became a champion of native affairs during the Kelowna Accord, which the federal Conservatives killed upon taking office in 2003. Campbell also swapped positions with his NDP opponents as he strove to become Canada’s “greenest” premier with the introduction of North America’s first carbon tax. In a head-scratching move, the normally environmentally friendly NDP opposed the tax, saying it would be too costly for the economy.
And then there was the HST.
When it was introduced, Campbell was unapologetic about the way it was brought about. But as public anger grew and with the success of the province’s first initiative to force a vote on the controversial tax, his tone changed.
First he admitted it had not been introduced well and then the tax toppled him.
A move he so vociferously defended forced him from office.
This weekend, 10 years after he lead the B.C. Liberal’s to their first of three successive election victories, Campbell will be replaced as both party leader and B.C. premier. He will leave office with the lowest approval rating of any premier in B.C. history.
Under his watch the province won the right to host, and staged, the 2010 Winter Olympics, lauded like EXPO ’86 as a milestone in international recognition for B.C.
But thanks to the furor over the HST, the provincial government never really got to bask in the glory of the games or received credit for them.
So, as Campbell exits the political stage, his legacy will be left for others to write, others who will no doubt argue the good and the bad.
Alistair Waters is the Capital News’ assistant editor.