British Columbia Looks For New Premier
Last Wednesday, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell announced he was stepping down as leader of the Liberal Party and Premier of the province. I admit that this was surprising to me, although I have not been following B.C. politics very close as of late. It is well known that there is widespread disapproval of the new HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) in the province, which combines the provincial and federal taxes into one. The implementation of this new tax was enough to cripple Campbell’s poll numbers to record lows and drive him out of office.
Just a year and a half ago, Campbell returned his party to power with an election victory over the New Democrats. In the two elections prior to that, Campbell achieved the same thing, delivering electoral victories, the strongest of which occurred in 2001. Now Campbell has chosen to leave before he gets shoved out, something that his party likely would have done in the near future. It is a sad end to Campbell’s career as British Columbia’s premier. Currently, Campbell is the longest serving premier in Canada, something he will give up when he formally resigns.
The perplexing part of this story lies in just how low the premier’s poll numbers have sunk. Some polls have him with single digit support, which is nowhere near the support a sitting politician needs to lead. These numbers are even lower than during his DUI controversy. So why have British Columbians suddenly turned on their premier? Well firstly, this is British Columbia, the province with arguably the wackiest history of leaders and provincial politics. Any individual brave enough to run for political office in that province should know the voters can and will turn on you at any moment.
But the underlying reason for Campbell’s resignation has to do with the overall dislike of the HST. There are several factors which have combined together in this respect. First, the Liberals campaigned in the 2009 election stating they would not directly impose the HST. Campbell and the party reneged on that promise. Second, the implementation was done without much, if any real public consultation. While the issue will be going to a referendum in 2011, it may be too late by then to undo it. And third, the HST has hurt much of the population. While not significantly increasing the number of items taxed, it is impossible to argue nothing has changed. Items that were only charged one tax before, now receive the combined thirteen percent. As Canada attempts to claw its way back into economic prosperity, something like this does not help. Most efforts since the HST implementation to help the economy have only made Mr. Campbell looks as though he is trying to win back angry voters.
It is quite possible that Campbell was on his way out regardless, though in September he stated he would not leave. He has led the party since 2001, and ten years seems fitting for a national or provincial leader. However, nobody assumed he would be pushed out on these terms. With his party set to revolt at any moment, Campbell did the smart and respectable thing and left. He thus spared his party from a gruesome battle over when he should leave. The question now remains, who will step up in his place?
The next leader of the Liberal party (and thus premier of B.C.) has a lot of issues he or she will have to deal with. Quite frankly, it is not a job I would seriously consider running for. But then again, a fresh face could go a long way to healing the divide between the party and electorate. If they play their cards correctly, they may be able to sidetrack the issue until the next election, and since one was just held in 2009, they likely have at least two years to get comfortable in the job. The NDP, which is the official opposition in B.C. is likely over the moon with these developments. Leader Carole James can easily blame the HST on the Liberals and pick up some support because of it.
This makes me wonder what the situation is like for other premiers who recently implemented the HST in their province. Ontario, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia all use the tax as well. Will their premiers be pushed from office with the same force? I don’t think it’s likely. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have relatively new premiers who will likely receive more slack from the electorate. Danny ‘I am god’ Williams is not likely to go anywhere in Newfoundland and Labrador. The only province which could deal their leader a similar blow is Ontario. Dalton McGuinty, similar to Campbell, has been in office a while (since 2003). He has seen some backlash over the HST, similar to B.C. But if for whatever reason McGuinty is to leave soon, it will be due to other factors than just the HST.
With Campbell soon to be gone from B.C. it will be interesting to watch who steps up and what happens. Once again, the province with the craziest provincial politics does not fail to entertain.