Not yet 18 months into his third mandate, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell is stepping down.
No matter that just last week, the Fraser Institute named him the best fiscal manager among Canadian premiers, Campbell’s decision to implement a harmonized sales tax in Canada’s westernmost province has derailed his political career.
His popularity with British Columbians is in the toilet. If an election were held today the B.C. Liberals would be decimated by the NDP.
So he’s stepping down, perhaps pushed out by a party which hopes with a new leader it might soften the damage before the next election. The Liberals have 2.5 years to dig their way out of the HST hole. With Campbell at the helm their likely isn’t a shovel large enough to do that.
Several pundits have noted the outcry over the HST in B.C. is light years louder than the outcry in Ontario, which implemented it at the same time. But they also note only one premier pledged not to implement an HST in an election held just before he announced the province was going to do it.
Hint: It wasn’t Dalton McGuinty. (Though he has his own issues in Ontario).
Although Campbell said during the election in May 2009 that an HST wasn’t on his radar screen, reporters in B.C. unearthed documents through access to information requests that found out the Campbell government was developing a communications strategy to sell the HST to the public as early as January 2009.
It kind of reminds me a bit of the MTS sale by the Tories in Manitoba in 1996. Premier Gary Filmon lost great credibility with voters when the government sold MTS after pledging not to during the 1995 provincial election. Documents uncovered later found Filmon had started consultations to get the sale underway several months before the 1995 vote.
When Filmon was swept out of power in 1999, the MTS sale was listed as one of the major reasons Manitoba voters were displeased. Not just with the sale itself but because the government said they wouldn’t sell it and then did it anyway, and less than a year after the election. (And trust me, the NDP still like to remind the Tories regularly about it. One Gary Doer was known to answer questions in the Legislature by thundering back at the Conservatives that they sold the phone system.)
It didn’t matter that following the sale of MTS the company went from having a huge deficit to being financially viable. Much like it doesn’t matter in B.C. whether or not the HST will ultimately be good for the province’s economy.
Unfortunately for Campbell every time someone in B.C. gets their hair cut, pays their hydro or gas bill, goes to the theatre or a Canucks game, buys an airline ticket or eats in a restaurant, they are reminded of the HST on their bill. All of those things cost more with the HST.
Hence his departure.
The question is will he get a plum federal posting as a reward for committing political suicide in favour of the HST – something federal finance minister Jim Flaherty has been trying to get all provinces to do for four years now? Rumour has it Campbell was somewhat jealous of Gary Doer’s posting to Washington last year. But with Governor General out of the running, there isn’t much else that could top Doer’s ambassador gig.