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(Published in the Abbotsford News week of Jan. 10, 2005)

Plant May Be Next to Flee Campbell’s Ship

John Pifer

(Please note: This column may be read whilst listening in the background to the rock classic: “Another One Bites the Dust”.)

Yes, British Columbia’s Good Ship Liberal sprang another leak this week; or saw another rat leaving the apparently sinking Ship of Fools, or whatever cliché best suits your political leanings.

The departure of junior minister Sandy Santori of the Kootenays has hardly created the ripple that earlier departures have -- such as Liberal stalwart, then-finance minister, Gary Collins bailing out in December, or then-deputy premier Christy Clark getting out of Dodge City (a.k.a. Victoria) in September.

Those two Cabinet heavyweights, both prominent federal Liberal supporters, cited family and personal reasons for abandoning ship just a few months before the May 17th election, amid all manner of speculation of what really was behind their moves. In truth, even if their explanations were 100% honest and complete, the public perception of problems within the provincial Liberal ranks was ever-present, and thus was further fuelled by the leaving of Mr. Santori.

All indications are that the biggest blow to Premier Gordon Campbell and Co. will be a decision from Attorney-General Geoff Plant. If the highly-competent and well-respected AG also decides to jump ship – and the betting here is that he will – it could be a most telling blow of all for the Liberals’ re-election hopes.

It may seem to be bizarre in the extreme to think that the Liberals could see their 2001 massive majority of 77 seats to 2 evaporate into a loss in 2005 to the socialist horde known as the New Democratic Party; but the fact that it is even a possibility must keep Our Gordo awake most nights. The Liberals need to retain at least 40 seats to receive a second term in office, and the party is frantically looking at identifying and consolidating 45 ridings into which it will concentrate its efforts, and its dollars. They already have identified up to three dozen they can pretty well kiss goodbye come May.

Many former NDP movers and shakers are filled with glee, let alone amazement, at the prospect of regaining power so soon after the New Democrats’ well-deserved ’01 defeat, after a decade of mismanagement and corruption when they held office.

One former high-profile union and NDP backroom boy, Bill Tieleman, used his current weekly column in the Georgia Straight to gloat at the prospect of Mr. Campbell’s fall from grace. He even dredged up a well-circulated quote from the 1996 election defeat of the Liberals to the NDP upstart Glen Clark to make his case. That had the then-editor of Saturday Night magazine, Kenneth Whyte, opining: “There's a simple rule in politics: either fire people's imaginations or those imaginations will turn around and fire at you. Unable to project a compelling image of himself, [Gordon] Campbell wound up wearing a negative image designed by his enemies. He became known as a ‘suit’ in the nastier sense of the word; i.e., a greedy, sleazy, conniving, heartless corporate type.”

There is no argument here that Mr. Whyte accurately identified the prime reason why the Liberals lost that election, even with a lead in the public opinion polls, and even with collecting a greater percentage of the popular vote – to wit, Mr. Campbell.

Through four years as Premier, Mr. C has indeed proved to be “unable to project a compelling image of himself” to British Columbians, and he will be the target for the NDP and its fledgling leader from now to mid-May.

From his personal drunk-driving adventure in Maui to a reputation as an arrogant, micro-managing, mean-spirited policy wonk who loves to interfere in the day-to-day operations of most ministries, to the Liberals’ flip-flops and/or confrontations on a myriad of issues, our not-so-beloved Premier has brought much of this merde-storm upon himself.

He maintains his constant low approval ratings in the polls are not vital, and that politics is not a popularity contest. Oh yes, it is Mr. Campbell – especially in BC. And you are in great danger of losing that contest … and those abandoning ship know it.

Veteran B.C. journalist/broadcaster John Pifer may be reached at


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