(This column was published in the North Shore News on May 12, 1999)

 

Time for chief and premier to go

By Leo Knight

THERE are few things as pathetic as someone trying to cling to power when it's clear they are not wanted.  

 

Dominating the news in the past few weeks have been the trials and tribulations of the Premier Glen Clark and Vancouver Police Chief Bruce Chambers. On the surface the two men have about as much in common as Gregorian chants and rap music.  

 

Both have risen to the top of their respective professions, albeit via much different paths.  

 

Interestingly enough, both seem doomed to be forced from their offices at approximately the same time and for some of the same traits that define each of them.  

 

Clark marked his reign after seizing power in the NDP by entrenching all the power within his office and his few close advisors, most notably Adrian Dix and Tom Gunton.  

 

Chambers brought his vision for the VPD with him from Thunder Bay, Ontario. He quickly let it be known he didn't give a fig for the considered experience of those who have been here for years and surrounded himself with a few close advisors, most notably Deputy Chief Brian MacGuinness and Inspector Ken Doern.  

 

Glen Clark was able to get his foot into the premier's door by staging a palace coup and shoving Mike Harcourt out of the back door.  

 

He then moved quickly to ensure there were no pretenders to the throne by removing power from ministerial high-flyers and reducing his cabinet colleagues to lackeys dependent upon him for the perks and privileges of office.  

 

Chief Chambers did Clark one better. Following the politicking for the top job in Vancouver -- won by a perceived interloper -- Chambers got rid of several deputy chiefs and a number of senior inspectors in a series of forced retirements that cost the city a substantial amount of money in severance.  

 

But it served to remove such candidates for the job as Deputy Chief Rick Stevens from the corridors of power.  

 

Once Clark got his tush firmly planted in the leather swivel chair behind the premier's desk, he set about racking up record provincial debt and the deficit budget after deficit budget.  

 

Not to be outdone, Chambers fell $3 million short on his '98/'99 budget, his first full year on the job -- something that's never been done before by a chief constable. Certainly not in Clark's league for sheer numbers, but done through a stubbornness borne of ego, which Clark knows a little something about.  

 

Now Clark got himself in a spot of bother when the Mounties came knocking on his door with a search warrant. His handyman cum neighbour cum apparent good buddy, Dimitrios Pilarinos, built an extension on his east end house and a deck on his summer retreat in the southern Okanagan, apparently donating his labour, while being a partner in a numbered company seeking a casino licence from Clark's cabinet.  

 

The chief blundered his way into an RCMP breathalyser roadblock and had to be separated from his company car and ordered into a taxi for the remainder of his trip. He then was front and centre in the Christmas ICBC roadcheck media campaign.  

 

In the days and weeks following the RCMP's visit to Casa Clark, the premier was virtually invisible.  

 

His autocratic, combative style was nowhere to be seen. His cabinet colleagues, meanwhile, were publicly supportive, but privately were discussing his "exit strategy."  

 

Chambers, for his part, went AWOL for several days after being snubbed by the police board, his employers, over a staffing issue involving the punitive transfer of a staff sergeant against the wishes of the community.  

 

Last Saturday night he was to be a head table guest at the annual military ball held at the Bayshore.  

 

Despite arrangements having been made weeks earlier, there were two empty chairs at the head table without so much as a phone call of apology to the organizers.  

 

Now both are facing attempts from within to unseat them. Clark is going on the offensive prior to a June party convention date which was to have been a new start with a new leader and now seems more likely to be a fight to the finish with a clear victor yet to be determined.  

 

Inspector Esko Kajander, the president of the Vancouver Police Officers Association, has approached the police board to make a presentation to them outlining the VPOA's concerns. This will be, essentially, a non-confidence motion in Chambers. The Vancouver Police Union is lined up with the VPOA. Without the support of both of those organizations, Chambers is finished. The only remaining question is when.  

 

The police board in Vancouver has to decide what to do with their chief entering the last year of a three-year contract.  

 

The terms of the contract require the board to advise the chief if they will be renewing his contract at the end of the second year.  

 

If they decide not to renew, and this is the most likely scenario, they will have to buy out his remaining year and appoint a caretaker chief, most likely Deputy Chief Constable Terry Blythe.  

 

Said one senior sergeant, "The problem with the chief is his arrogance. His complete ruthless arrogance. He consults with no one. He listens to no one. If he doesn't like you he simply turns his back on you while you're talking and looks out the window."  

 

Take out the word "chief" and insert "premier" and the statement is just as accurate.  

 

Both men last week were attempting to cling on to their office. Chambers said he intends to be chief for the next five years.  

 

We then learned he has hired a lawyer, sending the message he will not go quietly.  

 

Clark, meanwhile, was busy trying to convince anyone who'd listen that he was going to lead his party into the next election.  

 

Both Clark and Chambers are mortally wounded professionally.  

 

Neither has the support of his subordinates and the public has lost confidence in each man.  

 

And, at the end of the day, neither can accept the fact they are the authors of their own misfortune.  

 

The time to go is now. Before any more damage is done.  

 

  -30-

 

 

 

Primetimecrime current headlines               Columns 1999